James Connolly lived in the US from 1903 to 1910. The image above is of Connolly addressing the May Day rally in Union Square, New York City in 1908. Here Rebel republishes an article by Connolly first printed in the May 1908 issue of The Harp, the newspaper of the Irish Socialist Federation he founded in the US.
As all the political forces of the United States are busily engaged to-day in lining up for the great conflict of the Presidential election of 1908, as on every hand there is a measuring of strength, a scanning of ‘issues’, and a searching of souls we desire on our part to approach you for the purpose of obtaining your earnest consideration of our principles before determining where to cast your support in the campaign. Let us reason quietly together! We speak to you as fellow workers and as fellow countrymen, and we ask where do you stand in politics to-day? Hitherto the Irish in the United States have almost entirely supported the Democratic Party, but the time has come when the majority of thoughtful Irishmen are beginning to realise that as the causes that originally led to that affiliation are no longer existent, the affiliation itself must be reconsidered. Political parties must thrive or fail according to the present development of the class in society they represent, and cannot be kept alive by a mere tradition of their attitude in past emergencies. The antagonism of the Democratic party towards the Know Nothing movement in the past won for it the support of the Irish Workers, but Know Nothingism is not an issue to-day, and as the Democratic party is going down to an unhonored grave because of its inability to grasp the problems of our own time shall we Irish Workers suffer ourselves to be dragged to social perdition with it?
No; fellow countrymen, political parties are the expression of economic interests, and in the last analysis are carried to victory or defeat by the development or retardation of economic classes. Examine the history of America for the last decade in the light of this analysis of the springs of political action, and the truth of that contention will be at once apparent. The Republican Party is the political weapon of advanced capital, of great trusts and mammoth combination of wealth. Hence as during the last decade the whole trend of industry has been toward greater concentration of capital we find that the Republican Party has grown stronger and stronger and its hold upon the political institutions of the country has proportionately tightened. To-day the governmental machinery of the United States is completely in the hands of the servants of capital, and Senate and Congress are but instruments for registering the decrees of the trust magnates of the United States. On the other hand the Democratic Party is the party of the small business man, and of those narrow ideas upon economics and politics which correspond to the narrow business lines and restricted economic action of the middle class in general. Hence as the last decade has witnessed the continual absorption by the trusts of the business of its petty competitors so it has also witnessed the absorption by the Republican Party of the one time adherents of the Democracy; as it has witnessed the downfall of the middle class as a social factor so it is witnessing the downfall of the political party of the middle class and its elimination as a political factor. And just as the petty business man may hang on to a meagre existence in business whilst no longer seriously considering himself as a competitive factor in industry, so the political party of the Democracy may hang on to a sordid existence in local affairs by means of its control of graft whilst entirely eliminated as a serious aspirant to national power.
We Irish Workers are then not under the necessity of considering ourselves as bound by tradition to the Democratic Party; political parties are not formed by traditions, but by interests. Where then do our interests lie? Certainly not in the Republican Party – that is the party of our employers, and as our employers we know do not allow their actions to be governed by our interests we are certainly not under any moral obligation to shape our political activity to suit the interests of our employers. Where then? To answer that question properly we must ask ourselves why are we Irish here at all in this country, instead of in Ireland. Certainly we have no complaint to make against our native land, and we for the most part did not come here for pleasure. We came here because we found that Ireland was private property, that a small class had taken possession of its resources – its land, its lakes, its rivers, its mountains, its bogs, its towns and its cities, its railways, its factories, and its fisheries. In short, that a small class owned Ireland and that the remainder of the population were the bond slaves of these proprietors. We came here because we found that the government of the country was in the hands of those proprietors and their friends, and that army and navy and police were the agents of the government in executing the will of those proprietors, and for driving us back to our chains whenever we rose in revolt against oppression. And as we learned that since that government was backed and maintained by the might of a nation other than our own, and more numerous than us, we could not hope to overthrow that government and free our means of living from the grasp of those proprietors, we fled from that land of ours and came to the United States.
In the United States we find that every day the condition of matters for the working class drifts more and more in the direction of the conditions we left behind. Here the resources of the country are also in the hands of a small class – the land, the rivers, the lakes, the forests, the fisheries, the towns, the cities, the factories, the railroads, the entire means of life of eighty millions of people are in the hands of a class which every day grows smaller and whose rapacity and greed and lust for power grows as its numbers diminish. Here also we find that government is but the weapon of the master class, that the military and police forces of the nation are continually at the service of the proprietors in all disputes just as in Ireland, and that the ‘rifle diet’ is served out to workers in America oftener than to peasants in the old country. But here the analogy stops. In Ireland the government was a foreign government. It was outside our control and beyond our reach, and hence no political action of ours could completely master the situation or achieve our freedom from the oppression of the master class. That class sheltered behind the British Government, and our vote for freedom was answered by a foreign army shaking thirty thousand bayonets in our faces. But, in the United States, although the master class – the proprietors – rests upon the Government, and although that government rests upon armed forces to maintain and enforce its will, yet all alike, being native and not foreign, are within the reach of the political and economic action of the American workers, and can at any moment be mastered by them. Hence the hopelessness which at one time seized upon the popular mind in Ireland need never paralyze the action of the wage-slaves here. Freedom lies within the grasp of the American wage slave, he needs but the mind and knowledge to seize it.
What then is the lesson for the Irish Workers in America? We are not trust magnates, nor little business men, and the interests which bind us to those who work beside us and suffer with us are infinitely stronger than the traditions which draw us towards those of our race whose interests are those of our despoilers. Hence our duty is plain. We must fight against in America that which plundered and hunted us in Ireland. Here as there, and here greater than there, the enemy of our race is private property in the means of life. In Ireland it was fundamentally private property in land that was the original and abiding cause of all our woes; in America it is again private property in land and in machinery that recreates in the United States the division of classes into slavers and enslaved. In Ireland it was private property, immature but bloodthirsty, in America it is private property, grown mature from the sucking of human blood. In both it is the enemy of the human race. To quote the words of Ernest Jones, the Chartist leader of ’48, friend of Ireland and fellow worker of John Mitchel in whose defense he spent one year in prison,
The monopoly of land drives him (the worker) from the farm into the factory, and the monopoly of machinery drives him from the factory into the street, and thus crucified between the two thieves of land and capital, the Christ of Labor hangs in silent agony.
We appeal to you then, fellow countrymen, to rally around the only banner that symbolises hope for you in America as in Ireland – the banner of Socialism. Cast off all your old political affiliations, and organize and vote to reconquer society in the interests of its only useful class – the workers. Let your slogan be, the common ownership of the means of life, your weapons the Industrial and Political Organization of the Wage Slaves to conquer their own emancipation.