James Connolly


Notes on the Front


Workers’ Republic, 4 March 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.


In our editorial last week we pointed out that the pressure of economic forces were being brought to bear upon this country in order to compel the young manhood of Ireland to enlist in the British Army.

We also pointed out that this was also an astute move in the interests of the great capitalists. This latter point is so important, and so little understood in this country, that we feel moved to again revert to it in our Notes this week.

The first point scarcely needs any stressing. The Military Service Act now being applied to England has not been enforced in Ireland because, as has been confessed in the House of Commons by Mr Bonar Law, it could not be put in operation without the use of a “considerable amount of force”. The armed manhood of Ireland whom Messrs Redmond and Devlin failed to betray into the ranks of England’s army forbade the attempt being made to force them in.

They had good ‘reasons’ for not being conscripted, and most of their ‘reasons’ were well provided with serviceable ammunition. More reasons of various calibres are coming in every day, and hence the Government concluded that it would be better to let Ireland alone – until after the war.

After the war England may compensate herself for her defeat at the hands of Germany by wreaking her armed vengeance upon Ireland, but for the present other means must be sought for finding Irish recruits. What are those other means?

Oratory has been tried, and failed. All over Dublin recruiting meetings are being broken up by the spontaneous action of the jeering crowds. Up and down the country the Khaki recruiting bands are marching in vain. The supply of corner boys and wastrels in our Irish towns and villages has fallen so low that the police magistrates have had practically nothing to do since the war fever swept up these undesirables in response to the oratory of Redmond and Devlin. In town and country the manhood of Ireland are thinking things about the Empire, and the things they think do not lead to soldiering for that institution.

The weeding out of young men of military age by the process of discharging them has been zealously recommended by the Empire builders, and adopted by many Irish employers. But many others whilst loudly proclaiming their zeal for recruiting have kept eligible young men in their own employment, and indeed insisted upon youth and physical fitness as a condition of employment in their service.

Newspapers have been bought, and journalists have freely prostituted themselves, in the service of recruiting, but few people in Ireland nowadays believe newspapers. We have been so long accustomed to their lying about what happened in Labour Wars at home that it has become impossible for us to credit what they say about other wars abroad.

So the British Government having used up all its light cavalry and infantry in vain now moves up its really heavy artillery to bring these Irish to reason. The heavy artillery in this case consists of the scientific employment of economic force.

Thus there will be served at one and the same time the interests of the British Government as such, and the interests of the great capitalists who own the British Government.

The material needed for the prosecution of every Irish industry which enters into competition with British industries will be interfered with either by totally prohibiting its importation, or by limiting it to such an extent that its cost will become almost prohibitive to those who do not possess large reserves of capital to call upon.

To make this still more effective in its power to cripple struggling industries, and bankrupt small employers, the Government issues secret orders to the banks to refuse all overdrafts to their business customers. At one blow this puts automatically out of business thousands of small employers who from week to week must trade upon the credit represented by those overdrafts.

There are thousands of small employers whose businesses are perfectly sound, but who have large sums owing to them not immediately realisable in cash, but nevertheless perfectly well secured. It is the perfectly legitimate custom of such employers to draw from their banks overdrafts upon their deposits in order to enable them to keep their businesses going, paying back to the bank the sums thus borrowed according as they themselves are paid by their debtors.

Large firms with unlimited capital to call upon do not need to pursue this practice, but in a country of small capitalists like Ireland nine-tenths of the business firms are kept going in this manner.

Observe well the deadly sequence of these moves of the Government. First, the restrictions upon imports create immediate financial troubles and precipitate an industrial crisis in which money is sought at a high premium. Next, the banks are forbidden to give their customers even the usual facilities to obtain this money, and thus when money is most needed it cannot be had.

Result. Will probably be widespread bankruptcy, the closing down of many places of employment in Ireland, and the consequent hunting of Irish workers into the British Army, or to England to be conscripted in the near future.

Only those capitalists in Ireland with large reserves to call upon will be able to carry themselves over the crisis. For the temporary strain upon them they will be rewarded by being enabled to absorb all the business of the smaller firms who will have succumbed.

The business of the smaller firms will thus be practically confiscated by their mammoth rivals, and the small capitalist will be allowed to go into the workhouse if he is old, or to the army if he is young. If he goes into the army he will have the honour of fighting for the plutocratic gang that planned and accomplished his ruin.

Many Irish firms have already turned their entire business establishments over to war work. These firms have been enabled to exist for years because of the patriotic self-denial of Irish Irelanders who pushed their goods in season and out of season, at home and abroad.

Now these firms so established and supported have given up all their customers in favour of war work. They have sent adrift all the customers secured for them by long years of propaganda by others. Where will they look for these customers when the war is over? Factories in England and America will have snapped up all or a majority of their customers, and they will have to begin all over again the weary work of looking for orders, and whilst they are so looking their machinery will rust and their workpeople starve.

All over the country it is the same. We believe the Blarney Tweed Company is solely engaged in war work. Who is supplying its customers? Probably some of its English competitors. Pierce’s Iron Foundry in Wexford has turned from the manufacture of agricultural implements to that of munitions for the English Army, thus reversing the scriptural idea of turning swords into ploughshares. In Kilkenny, in Dundalk, in Sligo, in Newry, everywhere in Ireland the capitalist fools have thrown overboard their old customers, abandoned a trade built upon the permanent needs of the community, in favour of a trade consisting of the passing needs of a mad war.

The very moment peace is declared all their orders will stop. And the returning soldiers will buy their necessities for civil life from the shops who have been compelled to get their orders filled by English or American factories whose owners were too shrewd to throw away customers to please the British Government.

All the firms that will be thus ruined are small firms; all the firms that will benefit by their ruin are mammoth firms; the British Government is owned by the great mammoth capitalist firms.

Do you see the point?

Again we press the point home. This war is not only a war for the destruction of a great commercial rival abroad, it is also being manipulated by the great capitalists for the destruction of commercial rivals at home.

The capitalist class of Great Britain, the meanest, most unscrupulous governing class in all history, is out for plunder. The plunder of German trade by force, the plunder of Irish trade by economic scheming, the plunder of the small capitalist class by financial pressure, the plunder of the Irish Nation by a combination of all three.

The grip of the enemy upon Ireland is tightening. Perhaps the sword alone can loosen it. Wait and see!


Last updated on 15.8.2003