Mr. John E.
His Strength and Weakness
Forward, 18 March, 1911.
Transcription & HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
In endeavouring to give readers in Great Britain some real conception of the realities of Irish political life, one finds the task of explanation made increasingly difficult by the spectacular nature of the campaign waged by the Redmondites on the one hand, and the reactionary, lying stupidities of the Irish Tories on the other. The fact that national political freedom is both desirable and necessary blinds many people to the truth that the advocates of such freedom on the political field may be most intensely conservative on the social or economic field and, indeed, may be purblind bigots in their opposition to all other movements making for human progress or enlightenment.
On the other hand there are not wanting, even among Socialists, many who seeing the socially reactionary character of much of the agitation for national freedom, became opposed to the principle because of the anti-Socialist character of some of its advocates.
The Socialist Party of Ireland avoids the dangers of either course. It recognises that national political freedom is an inevitable step towards the attainment of universal economic freedom, but it insists that the non-Socialist leaders of merely national movements should be regarded in their true light as champions of the old social order and not exalted into the position of popular heroes by any aid of Socialist praise or glorification. A fact many of our British comrades are apt to forget.
We need not beslaver the United Irish League because we detest the Tories. We can detest them both. In fact they represent the same principle in different stages of social development. The Tories are the conservatives of Irish feudalism, the United Irish Leaguers are the conservatives of a belated Irish capitalism. It is our business to help the latter against the former only when we can do so without prejudice to our own integrity as a movement.
How difficult this becomes, at times, is best illustrated by the position of Mr. John E. Redmond, M.P., “Leader of the Irish race”, as his followers enthusiastically assure us. Mr. Redmond has a record as a reactionist difficult to excel. Long before the Parnell split, he denounced the Irish agricultural labourers in a speech at Rathfarnham, near Dublin, for forming a trade union to protect their own interests. On the granting of Local Government in 1898, a measure that first enfranchised the Irish working class on local bodies, Mr. Redmond made a speech counselling the labourers to elect landlords to represent them – a speech truly characterised by Mr. Michael Davitt in the House of Commons as the “speech of a half-emancipated slave”. The labourers in town and country treated Mr. Redmond’s advice with contempt and elected men of their own class all over Ireland. Compelled by the imperative necessity of maintaining in power a Home Rule government, Mr. Redmond votes for every measure of social reform the defeat of which would lead to the resignation of said government, but quietly acquiesces in every exemption of Ireland from progressive measures. Mr. Redmond believes that the Irish people are capable of governing their country, but opposed the proposal of Mr. T.W. Russell to allow the Irish people to control their own schools under the Local Government Act of 1898. Mr. Redmond bewails the fact that lack of employment compels the Irish workers to emigrate at the rate of 30,000 per year, but opposed the attempt of the Labour party to compel the government to recognise its duty to provide work for them at home; Mr. Redmond believes that all public servants and representatives should be paid for their services to the State from the funds of the state, but is opposed to payment of members being extended to Ireland; Mr. Redmond’s heart bleeds for the poor of Ireland, but he would not vote for the Feeding of School Children’s Act to be applied to Ireland, and Mr. Redmond is a friend of the Labour party in England (!), but his party fights to the death against every independent candidature of Labour throughout the purely Nationalist districts of Ireland.
If we are, as we are, capable of running our own country, how comes it we are not fit to be trusted with our own schools? And if the public control of schools by the Catholic Irish people would lead to atheism and to the persecution of the clergy, how has it not produced the same effect in Canada which Mr. Redmond is continually praising as an example for Ireland? Here is what a clergyman, the Rev. J.E. Burke, in a recent speech in the Assembly Hall, Belfast, said of the educational system of Canada – that country so beloved of Mr. T.P. O’Connor and Mr. Redmond:
They had no church schools – nothing but state schools. While the priest and the parson were at liberty to visit the schools and give advice and encouragement, they had nothing to do in the management. The children of all nationalities and all creeds and classes attended these schools and grew up together in them, and he believed that the result of this was a better understanding amongst them in after life.
Mr. Redmond exalts Canada as a model for Irish Government, but opposes in Ireland all these domestic institutions which make free government a success in Canada.
If it was right, as it undoubtedly was, to demand aid for Irish farmers, why is it not equally right to demand state aid or local aid for starving Irish school children?
If, as Mr. Redmond claims, Ireland is overtaxed to the extent of over two millions per year, how will payment of Irish members of Parliament be a gift from the ‘British’ Treasury? Does one feel like the recipient of a ‘gift’ when you get back some of your own?
How then does Mr. Redmond and his party maintain their hold despite their essentially reactionary position? Simply because the Irish Unionists are still more reactionary. It is almost a choice between the devil and the deep sea.
Observe: In the debate in the House of Commons on the M’Cann case, Mr. Joseph Devlin, M.P., taunted the Orange bigots with the fact that none of their clergymen had been on the Anti-Sweating platform in the Ulster Hall, Belfast. As a matter of fact, the same was true of the Catholic clergymen. None of them were on that platform either, but the stupid Orange reactionaries could not think of a better answer to Joe than to deny the fact of the sweating. The obvious retort was apparently beyond their capacities.
Another illustration: In the debate upon the issue of the writ for North Louth, an Orange member, Mr. William Moore, moved to suspend the issue of the writ for four months on the ground that ‘Protestants’ had been assaulted. This motion was made despite the fact that the whole trend of the evidence had been to prove that every species of intimidation and bribery had been brought to bear upon Catholics who refused to bow to the dictates of the official Home Rule gang. That, in short, it was Catholics who needed to be protected and not Protestants.
A motion to suspend the issue of the writ pending a Parliamentary investigation into the workings of the organisations responsible for the wholesale terrorism exercised upon the electors of North Louth – irrespective of religion – would have opened the way for a capable man to give such an exposure of the workings of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (Board of Erin) and its relation to the United Irish League, as might have led to the extirpation of that pest in Ireland, but no one could expect such statesmanship from the Orange quarter.
But just imagine what a real Irish democrat could have made of such a situation! Then he could have dealt with the pilgrimage of the M.P.’s to America and Canada to beg from Irish exiles money towards the Irish cause, how our exiled brothers and sisters stinted themselves of, perhaps, even the necessaries of life in order to help to “free Ireland and uplift poor Mother Erin”, and how the money thus procured was used to debauch Irish men and women, to destroy political purity, to purchase bludgeons to smash in the heads of Irish men, and to terrorise the peaceful countryside?
A real representative of the Irish democracy might go on to show how Mr. Joseph Devlin’s organisation, the A.O.H., supposed to be the Ancient Order of Hibernians, but by some believed to be the Ancient Order of Hooligans, has spread like an ulcer throughout Ireland, carrying social and religious terrorism with it into quarters hitherto noted for their broad-mindedness and discernment.
How it has organised the ignorant, the drunken and the rowdy, and thrown the shield of religion around their excesses; how it has made it impossible to conduct a political contest in the South of Ireland except on the lines of civil war; and how, every man who dares to oppose the Redmondite party, or every man within that party who opposes the A.O.H., must be at all times prepared to take his life in his hands ...
Every shade of political feeling in Ireland, outside of the official gang at the head of the United Irish League, agree that this organisation of Mr. Devlin’s creation, and of whose work Mr. Redmond accepts the fruits, is the greatest curse yet introduced into the political and social like of Ireland. It is the organised ignorance of the community placing itself unreservedly at the disposal of the most insidious and inveterate enemies of enlightenment. In West Belfast it calls upon the Labour vote, upon the Socialists, to vote for ‘Wee Joe Devlin’, and in Queenstown  it foments a riot in order to prevent a Socialist speaker delivering his message; it is a true reincarnation of mediaeval intolerance masquerading in the guise of Christian charity ...
Such is the problem, or rather some factors in the problem, in Ireland. Say, ye British Socialists, have your leaders any conception of this problem, or do they imagine that an Irish branch of a British Socialist organisation can grapple with this problem, or do anything with it save make a mess of it?
Or that it can be grappled with in any manner save from within the Irish nation by the workers of Ireland uniting in a party of their own to throw off the incubus of social slavery and religious intolerance? Such is the work the Socialist Party of Ireland sets out to accomplish. In that work the Socialists of Ireland know well that they can expect no help or countenance from the bigots of either Green or Orange persuasion, and while ever insisting upon the right of Ireland to control its own destinies, it allows precedence in its thoughts and plans to no interest but one, that of the working class. To the Redmonds and the Devlins, the Carsons and the Moores – it leaves the apostleship of religious bigotry; in our ranks there is no room for that type of politician of whom the poet writes that:–
With all his conscience and with one eye askew,
So false he partly took himself for true;
Whose pious talk, when most his heart was dry.
Made wet the crafty crow’s-foot round his eye;
Who never naming God except for gain,
So never took that useful name in vain;
Made Him his cat’s paw, and the Cross his tool,
And Christ his bait to trap his dupe and fool;
Nor deeds of gift, but gifts of grace, he forged,
And, snakelike, slimed his victim ere he gorged.
1. Since renamed Cobh. A reference to the organised attack on one of Connolly’s Socialist meetings there. – The text here is not the full text of the article. The omitted portions consist of very long quotations from the Cork Free Press, organ of William O’Brien, M.P., and Mr. Lindsay Crawford, leader of the Independent Orangemen, both exposing the sectarian activities of the A.O.H.
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