James Connolly


The Slackers III


Workers’ Republic, 25 March 1916.
Transcription & HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

We have received the following letter from a correspondent in Glasgow. We gladly publish it in order that our readers may have the pleasure of seeing us pilloried by an able writer, and judge for themselves as to the correctness of our position.

To the Editor of The Workers’ Republic.

Dear Comrade,

As a regular and admiring reader of the Republic, permit me to express my disappointment with your leading article, entitled The Slackers, in which you criticise those young men who are landing in Ireland to escape conscription. You dip your pen in vitriol and in the most intemperate language denounce them as slackers, recreants, cowardly runaways, Brit-Huns, and unmitigated curs.

Before opening your flood-gates of abuse you would surely make certain of your ground, and although you do not produce it, you doubtless possess abundant evidence that the men you denounce are everything you brand them. You have enjoyed their acquaintance for a few days now, and must have collected extensive proof that they are the ‘curs’ you so charitably describe them to be. I would not ask you to produce this proof, only your lurid description does not tally with the impression of the men I formed during years of association with them.

You tell us the new arrivals are English, Welsh, and Scotch. Well, they were Irish when they sailed from here. Irish to a man. Fifty of my personal acquaintances are now basking in your comradely scowls. Half of them are Irish born and have returned to their natal roof-trees. The other half are born of Irish parents and have crossed to the hospitality of relatives. They don’t sing Rule Britannia. They never sport the loyal colours. They duly ‘hate England’, and although they came here some years ago to steal the jobs (by selling their labour cheap) and ‘take the bread out of the mouths’ of Scotchmen, they are not willing to be pressed into the Army if by the simple device of changing their locus they can evade it.

You are opposed to conscription. So are they. You say they should remain in Britain and fight against it. Don’t you know the fight is over? Conscription has won. It is the law of the land. Those who fought against the Bill must now enter the Army, or devise some means of avoiding it. There are only two ways of keeping out of the Army – to step into prison or over to Ireland. Scotch and English resisters will go to prison; those who have friends in Ireland are choosing the lesser punishment of returning to their native land.

Whose applause do you hope to gain by such an article? What are your motives for writing in a strain that does you so little credit? If you believe it is wrong to join the Army, why deny a refuge to those who believe with you? If you believe the Irish workers are poor because of capitalist oppression, why mislead them to regard the Scotch and English workers, who may compete for jobs, as the authors of Irish misery.

“Glasgow Reader”

The above is about the most amusing criticism we have ever come across. The writer coolly ignores our very explicit description of the men whom we attacked in our article, and proceeds to a totally unnecessary defence of people whom we did not attack. Then he waxes eloquent in defence of those men whom we did not attack. It is easy being virtuously indignant over an article if you persist in denying the facts upon which the article is based, and spread your ink over a totally different series of facts, that have nothing to do with the case.

For example: Our critic says the people whom he is defending “Don’t sing Rule Britannia, don’t sport the loyal colours”. But the people whom we were attacking do sport the loyal colours, and do sing Rule Britannia, and do shout for the war, and are blatant jingoes to a man; they are not Irish refugees returning to the land of their birth, or the land of their fathers. Oh, no, they are boys of the bull-dog breed, publicly and privately asserting that Irishmen should go out to fight for the Empire they will not shed their own blood to defend.

Dublin, Ireland, is rotten with these carrion; our patriotic jingo employers are continually discharging Irishmen and filling up their jobs with English and Scots and Welsh, and these Brit-Huns are neither socialists, radicals, no conscription fellowship members, nor people who believe with us that it is wrong to join the Army. So why does our “Glasgow Reader” get so excited, and indulge in such unworthy insinuations about our “motives”, and ask “whose applause do we hope to gain”, etc. He may be proud of his deftness in making such insinuations; we are willing he should enjoy all the credit of such literary finesse.

His last sentence is a gem of illogical and topsy-turvy reasoning. Let us repeat it: “If you believe the Irish workers are poor because of capitalist oppression why mislead them to regard the Scotch and English workers who may compete for jobs as the authors of Irish misery?”

Is not that a gem? Here is the position. The capitalist class of these countries have committed a great international crime. We stand solidly alongside of all those in Ireland who have opposed that crime from its inception to its latest development, and we have opposed and denounced all those who in Ireland have been accomplices of that crime whether those accomplices were of our own class, our nearest and dearest friends, or members of the exploiting classes.

Our attitude to parties in Great Britain has been exactly the same. We have encouraged the enemies of the war, and have exposed and denounced its friends and sponsors, regardless of the class to which they belong.

But because some of the shouters for the war, some of the blatant jingoes and union-jackers came over to Ireland, to help their rulers to depopulate Ireland by grabbing our jobs whilst our brothers are elbowed out to starve or enlist, our critic has nothing but covert insults for us when we dare to criticise them. He criticises the same element in Glasgow; insinuates that we are misleading the Irish workers when we criticise them after they have crossed the channel. So a Scotch jingo in Glasgow is fair game for a socialist writer, but when he crosses to Dublin we have to look upon him as a sacred person – to attack whom is an offence against internationalism. A jingo is a jingo wherever we meet him, and as far as we are concerned there is no close season for jingoes. Nor game preserve in which they may not be hunted.

Our critic has allowed his generous sympathies for his comrades who have returned to Ireland to becloud his mind. We did not attack them. We know many of the Irish refugees who have left Great Britain for Ireland rather than serve in the British Army, and we admire them and welcome them in our midst. We know also some English and Scotch fighters who have been against the war from the start, have braved unpopularity with their own countrymen in opposing it, and if they find that they can continue their fighting better in Ireland than in Great Britain they also are welcome. But neither of these classes of immigrants into Ireland were in our mind when we wrote our article, and nothing but the most jaundiced imagination or the most slipshod reading could make the article apply to them.

And finally, let us say that we are sick of the canting talk of those who tell us that we must not blame the British people for the crimes of their rulers against Ireland. We do blame them. In so far as they support the system of society which makes it profitable for one nation to connive at the subjection of another nation they are responsible for every crime committed to maintain that subjection.

If there is any section of the British people who believe that Ireland would be justified in ending the British Empire if she could, in order to escape from thraldom to it, then that section may hold itself guiltless of any crime against Ireland. But if there is any such section, how small and utterly insignificant it is, since it nowhere gives public proof of its existence.

Of all the bodies called into existence by the fight against the war, and against conscription, is there one British organisation that claims for Ireland (or would even allow to Ireland) the same right to determine its national fate as all the British peace parties insist upon being secured to Belgium? There is not one.

The burden of all their cries is that no further conquests must be made. This means that all countries conquered before the war should remain conquered, subject countries. Especially does it mean that the British Empire should remain intact, and in possession of all its plunder.

This pirate Empire holds as a subject population, unrepresented in any parliament, one-sixth of the human race. Whosoever is of any of these subject races and dares to aspire to an existence for his country apart from the British Empire is seized as a criminal, and imprisoned or executed by our rulers. India, Egypt, Ireland, have all supplied examples in recent years. Yet this pirate crew who have seized upon and held in bondage this vast mass of humanity, one-sixth of the human race; who treat as a crime the noblest aspirations of freedom amongst that mass, the crew of this pirate Empire have always the enthusiastic support of the people of Great Britain in frustrating any attempt of a subject population to escape from the Empire.

As the glutton who has gorged himself to suffocation demands that everybody else should rise from the table so the ‘noblest minds of England’ declare against further conquests by any of their national rivals. An Empire whose sword is ever drinking blood in some part of the world poses as the champion of the nations against the doctrine of force.

Such hypocrisy! We will believe in the guiltlessness of the British people when their spokesmen dare to recognise publicly that the British Empire cannot last, and so recognise the right of each one of its subject nations to be itself by the aid of any ally it can attach to its side.

For our part we take our stand openly upon the fundamental truth that Ireland is a subject nation, and that therefore Ireland has no national enemy in Europe save one, and that one is the nation that holds her in subjection.


Last updated on 15.8.2003