“Trust Your Leaders!”
From Workers’ Republic, December 4, 1915.
Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997.
Trust your leaders! Recently we have been treated to a homily upon the above text. Trust your leaders; what do you know of their plans and resources, or what amount of confidential information they may possess that is denied to the rank and file? That is good advice. We endorse it thoroughly; agree with it in every essential. Your leaders have a right to your confidence. Let them know that you will obey them – that is one kind of confidence. Let them know what the rank and file are thinking and saying – that is another sign of your confidence.
The last is the most sacred kind of confidence. It is the confidence you only give to a loved friend, a friend whom you love so much that even at the risk of wounding his feelings you are prepared, for his sake as well as your own, to challenge his judgment and impeach his wisdom. That is the highest kind of confidence ’ the most sacred kind of trust.
If you are adventuring under a leader of proven judgment in the task you both have set out to perform, do not question his judgment rashly. But if his experience is no more than yours - his judgment untested, and his experience nil, do not leave him to flounder along without that saving criticism which must in peace provide the only possible substitute for the terrible punishment with which mistaken judgment is visited in war. If you do, you are untrue to him, to yourself, and above all to the common cause. “Teach them, O Lord,” said a French writer, “that in the haven of Liberty there are neither heroes nor great men.”
In Ireland, however, we have ever seized upon mediocrities and made them our leaders; invested them in our minds with all the qualities we idealised, and then when we discovered that our leaders were not heroes but only common mortals, mediocrities, we abused them, or killed them, for failing to be any better than God made them.
Their failure dragged us down along with them because we had insisted that they were wiser than we were, and had stoned whoever declared them to be common mortals, and not all-wise geniuses. Our real geniuses and inspired apostles we never recognised, nor did we honour them. We killed them by neglect, or stoned them whilst they lived, and then went in reverent procession to their graves when they were dead.
We are raising our voice, or using our pen, to insist upon taking the military leaders of the Irish people into our confidence; to ask our readers to insist likewise that if the rank and file must obey, so also is it true that the leaders must listen. We see neither heroes nor great men amongst these leaders, and we are devoutly thankful that it is so. Being common mortals like ourselves we shall refuse to invest them with the super-sanctity of gods or the wisdom and foresight of prophets. And above all we refuse, and we counsel all others to refuse, to assume that our policies for Ireland in this crisis are identical until we know that they are. At a time when all they hold dear trembles in the balance, should the armed citizens of Ireland fall in behind leaders without questioning what are the policies of those leaders, or what their outlook upon the immediate future?
We do not call for public pronouncements from them, but every man is the guardian of his own conscience and responsible to that conscience if he shirks his duty to his country and its cause. By your choice of a leader now you make your choice of the part you shall play in the hour of destiny. How can you make that choice wisely if you do not know what that leader’s policy for the future is?
Do not be deceived, nor deceive yourself by words. For instance, when you hear that some one will ‘fight conscription,’ push the question until you find out what he means by ‘fighting’ conscription.
The Quakers in England will fight conscription, the Dukhobors of Russia will fight conscription, the ‘No Conscription Fellowship’ is already fighting conscription. But no blows are or will be struck by them – indeed their ‘fighting’ consists in refusing to strike blows. Is that your method, or that of your leaders? Or do you prefer the method of that Catholic priest who recently advised his people to send a deputation of their ten best shots to meet the conscriptors? Words are said to be the medium by which we express our ideas, but in Ireland words are generally the means by which we conceal our ideas. Do not let them be so used in this great game now being played.
It is poor quibbling to say that the Workers’ Republic stands for reckless fighting and ill-considered action. It does not. The Workers’ Republic holds that at any time since the war broke out the British Government could have been halted in its inroads upon public liberties in Ireland by a flat refusal on the part of the majority of its armed citizens to allow their rights as citizens to be interfered with.
It needed no insurrection, no flying to arms, no storming of jails, it only needed that the armed Volunteers who claimed to stand for Ireland should mobilise and speak for Ireland. And so speaking should declare that they would not demobilise until all orders of deportation were withdrawn, and full liberty accorded to the Irish Volunteers to organise under their own chosen offcers. Not a troop would have been moved against them, nor a shot fired. The competent military authority would have been repudiated as readily as was the gentleman responsible for ordering out the military on Howth Sunday.
Does anyone imagine that at that period of Captain Robert Monteith’s deportation, when everything was going wrong with England, that she would have hesitated to sacrifice her dignity or swallow an affront, rather than provoke in Ireland a conflict that she knew would have tested severely the loyalty of the reserves newly recalled to the colours? Just as Redmond could have gained Home Rule by refusing to speak in the House of Commons until he had called a Convention in Ireland upon the outbreak of the war, so the leaders of the Irish Volunteers could have prevented the flowing over this island of the wave of military despotism by quietly challenging its force when first it broke upon us. But neither had the requisite imagination. Both essayed to grapple a revolutionary situation with the weapons of a constitutional agitation.
The tyranny we have since suffered under has been progressive in its virulence. At first it was only Government employees like Captain Monteith who were arrested or deported, now it is any civilian under any conceivable circumstance. Tyranny grows with what it feeds upon.
We are told that the arrest of our leaders would justify action. Our leaders would have been arrested long ago were it not for the fact that at the protest meeting held by the Citizen Army against the deportation of Captain Monteith it was declared by the chief speaker that the arrest of the Volunteer leaders would be a proof to their followers that the British had been defeated at sea, or that the Germans had landed. Fear lest the people of Ireland should so interpret their arrest has spared them to us up till now.
We believe in constitutional action in normal times; we believe in revolutionary action in exceptional times. These are exceptional times.
When General Friend took down the sign from over Liberty Hall he did not do so in order to provoke us to insurrection. He calculated that a body of 100 armed men would scarcely spring to arms at such an insult after a body of 5,000 armed men had submitted meekly to a greater one in the same city. His calculation was right. Had the numbers been changed his calculation might have missed. We acquit the competent military authority of any intention to provoke a revolt. But we are glad that it was not a Labour paper that pointed out to him that he could at any time provoke a revolt by seizing the leaders of the Volunteers. We are sure that he is grateful for the suggestion, but we do not believe that he needed it.
What do you think of the wisdom of those who tell you to be patient and trust your leaders whose plans you do not understand, but if those leaders are arrested, fly to arms? If your leaders who alone have plans are arrested your flying to arms will be that of a leaderless mob in a planless insurrection. And you know, don’t you, that the same voices who talk thus of flying to arms, would then talk of waiting until your new leaders would have made new plans to meet the new situation? Finally: think over this chunk of wisdom. A revolutionist who surrenders the initiative to the enemy is already defeated before a blow is struck. It is a fine day if it wasn’t for the rain.
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Last updated on 15.8.2003