In Praise of the Empire
From Workers’ Republic, 9 October 1915.
Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997.
We want to say a few words in praise of the Empire. Now, do not get startled, or shocked, nor yet think that we are only sarcastic. We are not abandoning our principles, nor forgetting our wrongs, nor giving up as hopeless the fight for our rights, nor yet exercising the slave’s last privilege – that of sneering at his masters.
We do not love the Empire; we hate it with an unqualified hatred, but, nevertheless, we admire it. Why should we not!
Consider well what this Empire is doing today, and then see if you can withhold your admiration.
At the present moment this Empire has dominions spread all over the seven seas. Everywhere it holds down races and nations, that it might use them as its slaves, that it might use their territories as sources of rent and interest for its aristocratic rulers, that it might prevent their development as self-supporting entities and compel them to remain dependent customers of English produce, that it might be able to strangle every race or nation that would enter the field as a competitor against British capitalism or assert its independence of the British capitalist.
To do this it stifles the ancient culture of India, strangles in its birth the new-born liberty of Egypt, smothers in the blood of ten thousand women and children the republics of South Africa, betrays into the hands of Russian despotism the trusting nationalists of Persia, connives at the partition of China, and plans the partition of Ireland.
North, south, east and west it has set its foot upon the neck of peoples, plundering and murdering, and mocking as it outraged. In the name of a superior civilization it has crushed the development of native genius, and in the name of superior capitalist development it has destroyed the native industries of a sixth of the human race.
In the name of liberty it hangs and imprisons patriots, and whilst calling High Heaven to witness its horror of militarism it sends the shadow of its swords between countless millions and their hopes of freedom.
Despite all this, despite the fact that every day the winds of the earth are laden with the curses which its unwilling subjects in countless millions pray upon its flag, yet that flag flies triumphantly over every one of its possessions, even whilst its soldiers are reeling discomfited and beaten before the trenches of Turk and German.
The British Empire never fought a white European foe single-handed, never dared yet to confront an equal unaided, yet it has laid upon its subjects everywhere from Ireland to India and from India to Africa, the witchcraft of belief in its luck, so that even whilst they see it beaten to its knees they are possessed with the conviction that it will pull through in some fashion. The Devil’s children have their father’s luck!
Without that belief, without that conviction of the slaves that their master must remain in possession of his mastership, the British Empire would today be everywhere lit up with the fires of mutiny and insurrection.
In the labour movement we have long ago learned that it is the worker who is convinced of the power of the capitalist, who believes that “the big fellows are sure to win,” it is he who really keeps labour in subjection, defeats strikes and destroys Trade Unions. The problem before the labour movement is always to find out how this hopeless feeling can be destroyed, and confidence implanted in the bosom where despair usually reigns.
The moment the worker no longer believes in the all-conquering strength of the employer is the moment when the way opens out to the emancipation of our class.
The master class realise this, and hence all their agencies bend their energies towards drugging, stupefying and poisoning the minds of the workers – sowing distrust and fear amongst them.
The ruling class of the British Empire also know it, and hence they also utilise every agency to spread amongst the subject races a belief in the luck of England, in the strength of England, in the omnipotence of England. That belief is worth more to the British Empire than ten army corps; when it goes, when it is lost, there will be an uprising of resurgent nationalities – and a crash of falling Empires.
Should we not therefore admire the Empire that in face of danger can yet fascinate and enthral the minds of its slaves and keep them in mental as well as physical subjection?
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Last updated on 14.8.2003