Stand Back Socialist! Stand Back!

‘The Will of the People’ would be nothing more than the whim of the tyrant mob, the most blind and ruthless tyrant of all’ – Father Kane

‘All hail, then, to the mob, the incarnation of progress!’ – James Connolly

Business owners and establishment politicians are often represented as the “incarnation of progress” in modern society.  The public is often portrayed as a mass or “mob”, unworthy of making decisions or of the responsibility to change history.  In 1910, James Connolly eloquently and passionately conveyed how it was and is the public – ordinary people together in force and solidarity – who have made the significant changes and improvements in society throughout history.

In 1910 James Connolly wrote Labour Nationality and Religion in response to a discourse against Socialism by Father Kane in Dublin. Father Kane referred to the will of the people, essentially, as the will and rule of the ‘mob’.  Connolly embraces the word mob and uses it to encapsulate the positive role it has played throughout human history.

I thought it would be interesting to share this ever-relevant discourse here, starting with Father Kane’s impression of the public, and then Connolly’s response to it.

Father Kane on socialism and the “mob”:

In Socialism there could be no healthy public opinion, no public opinion at all except that manufactured by officialdom or that artificially cultivated by the demagogues of the mob. There could be no free expression of free opinion. The press would be only the press of the officials. Printing machines, publishing firms, libraries, public halls, would be the exclusive property of the state. We do not indeed advocate utter licence for the press, but we do advocate its legitimate liberty. There would be no liberty of the press under Socialism; no liberty even of speech, for the monster machine of officialdom would grind out all opposition – for the monster machine would be labelled, ‘The Will of the People’, and ‘The Will of the People’ would be nothing more than the whim of the tyrant mob, the most blind and ruthless tyrant of all, because blindly led by blind leaders. Brave men fear no foe, and free men will brook no fetter. You will have thought, in your boyhood, with hot tears, of the deeds of heroes who fought and fell in defence of the freedom of their fatherland. That enthusiasm of your boyhood will have become toned down with maturer years in its outward expression, but mature years will have made it more strong and staunch for ever, more ready to break forth with all the energy of your life and with all the sacrifice of your death in defiance of slavery. You may have rough times to face; you may have rough paths to tread, you may have hard taskmasters to urge you toil, and hard paymasters to stint your wage; you may have hard circumstances to limit your life within a narrow field; but after all your life is your own, and your home is your own, and your wage is your own, and you are free. Freedom is your birthright. Even our dilapidated modern nations allow to a man his birthright – freedom. You would fight for your birthright, freedom, against any man, against any nation, against the world; and if you could not live for your freedom, you would die for it. You would not sell your birthright, freedom, to Satan; and I do not think that you are likely to surrender your birthright, freedom, to the Socialist. Stand back! We are free men. Stand back, Socialist! God has given us the rights of man, to our own life, to our own property, to our own freedom. We will take our chance in the struggle of life. We may have a hard time or a good time, we may be born lucky or unlucky, but we are free men. Stand back, Socialist! God has given us our birthright, freedom, and, by the grace of God, we will hold to it in life and in death.

Connolly’s response:

After you have done laughing at this hysterical outburst we will proceed to calmly discuss its central propositions. To take the latter part first, it is very amusing to hear a man, to whom a comfortable living is assured, assure us that we ought to tell the Socialist that “we will take our chance in the struggle of life…

How can a person, or a class, be free when its means of life are in the grasp of another? How can the working class be free when the sole chance of existence of its individual members depends upon their ability to make a profit for others?

The argument about the freedom of the press – a strange argument from such a source – is too absurd to need serious consideration. Truly, all means of printing will be the common property of all, and if any opposition party, any new philosophy, doctrine, science, or even hair-brained scheme has enough followers to pay society for the labour of printing its publications, society will have no more right nor desire to refuse the service than a government of the present day has to refuse the use of its libraries to the political enemies who desire to use those sources of knowledge to its undoing. It will be as possible to hire a printing machine from the community as it will be to hire a hall. Under Socialism the will of the people will be supreme, all officials will be elected from below and hold their position solely during good behaviour, and as the interests of private property, which according to St. Clement are the sole origin of contention among men, will no longer exist, there will be little use of law-making machinery, and no means whereby officialdom can corrupt the people.

This will be the rule of the people at last realised. But says Father Kane, at last showing the cloven foot, “the will of the people would be nothing more than the whim of the tyrant mob, the most blind and ruthless tyrant of all, because blindly led by blind leaders”. Spoken like a good Tory and staunch friend of despotism! What is the political and social record of the mob in history as against the record of the other classes? There was a time, stretching for more than a thousand years, when the mob was without power or influence, when the entire power of the governments of the world was concentrated in the hands of the kings, the nobles and the hierarchy. That was the blackest period in human history. It was the period during which human life was not regarded as being of as much value as the lives of hares and deer; it was the period when freedom of speech was unknown, when trial by jury was suppressed, when men and women were tortured to make them confess crimes before they were found guilty, when persons obnoxious to the ruling powers were arrested and kept in prison (often for a lifetime) without trial; and it was the period during which a vindictive legal code inflicted the death penalty for more than one hundred and fifty offences – when a boy was hung for stealing an apple, a farmer for killing a hare on the roadside. It was during this undisturbed reign of the kings, the nobles, and the hierarchy that religious persecutions flourished, when Protestants killed Catholics, Catholics slaughtered Protestants, and both hunted Jews, when man “;made in God’s image” murdered his fellow-man for daring to worship God in a way different from that of the majority; it was then that governments answered their critics by the torture, when racks and thumbscrews pulled apart the limbs of men and women, when political and religious opponents of the state had their naked feet and legs placed in tin boots of boiling oil, their heads crushed between the jaws of a vice, their bodies stretched across a wheel while their bones were broken by blows of an iron bar, water forced down their throats until their stomachs distended and burst, and when little children toiled in mine and factory for twelve, fourteen and sixteen hours per day. But at last, with the development of manufacturing, came the gathering together of the mob, and consequent knowledge of its numbers and power, and with the gathering together also came the possibility of acquiring education. Then the mob started upon its upward march to power – a power only to be realised in the Socialist Republic. In the course of that upward march the mob has transformed and humanised the world. It has abolished religious persecution and imposed toleration upon the bigots of all creeds; it has established the value of human life, softened the horrors of war as a preliminary to abolishing it, compelled trial by jury, abolished the death penalty for all offences save one, and in some countries abolished it for all; and to-day it is fighting to keep the children from the factory and mine, and put them to school. The mob, “the most blind and ruthless tyrant of all”, with one sweep of its grimy, toil-worn hand, swept the stocks, the thumbscrew, the wheel, the boots of burning oil, the torturer’s vice and the stake into the oblivion of history, and they who to-day would seek to view those arguments of kings, nobles, and ecclesiastics must seek them in the lumber room of the museum.

In this civilising, humanising work the mob had at all times to meet and master the hatred and opposition of kings and nobles; and there is not in history a record of any movement for abolishing torture, preventing war, establishing popular suffrage, or shortening the hours of labour led by the hierarchy. Against all this achievement of the mob its enemies have but one instance of abuse of power – the French reign of terror – and they suppress the fact that this classic instance of mob fury lasted but eight months, whereas the cold-blooded cruelty of the ruling classes which provoked it had endured for a thousand years.

All hail, then, to the mob, the incarnation of progress!

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Writings of the Irish Revolution

labour in irish history
You may not find James Connolly’s Labour In Irish History (1910), amongst other “1916” related works in the average bookshop.

Does it say something about our consideration of the Irish Revolution generally, that the rebels’ original writings remain obscure and are not available in any of the main Irish bookshops – you will not find them in Eason or Dubray anyway.  One would find it difficult not to notice the great many books currently being made available about the 1916 period – some good, many bad, new re-tellings and recently re-published old ones – but these are mostly summaries, opinions of characters and ideologies, secondary sources, or second-hand accounts of events.

I have seen no publications of any of Patrick Pearse’s work for example – someone often described as a poet and play-write.  Also conspicuous by its absence is James Connolly’s essential Labour In Irish History; its procurement is most likely to be gained only in back-alley partisan bookshops, from certain political groups, or on-line.  Apart from the Revolution Papers why is there no complete re-publications of anything written by Arthur Griffith? – a person who, although he did not participate in the Rising, was a prolific political writer of that time on behalf of Sinn Féin.  I have my own opinions on why all of this might be, but here I am only raising the question.

Can we understand what the rebels intended without having read what they wrote?  After all, Pearse, Connolly, and Griffith were very different politically and disagreed on fundamental issues, (Griffith was quite conservative, Connolly was a socialist).  These stark ideological differences are not generally acknowledged (and I fear not generally realised) in an environment where those names, often mentioned in the same breath, are synonymous with the nationalist struggle against Britain and nothing else.  It seems to me, that the current environment being promoted is one which acknowledges the characters of the 1916 period, and celebrates them, but does not encourage us to understand them.

More Orwell: Dickensian Orwellian

After reading three of Mr. Arthur Blair’s books in 2015 (including a selection of essays and short stories), I thought I had finished with old George for the year in order to get on with reading other works.  Last week, however, I was given a loan of another collection of Orwell essays from a neighbour (after getting locked out of the house, they invited me in for a chat).  I feel an obligation to now finish this book so that I can return it to its enthusiastic lender.

Included in it is an enjoyable piece about Charles Dickens and proletarian themed writing.  The essay is literally called Charles Dickens.  A point is made about the portrayal of working-class people in literature, which I agree with, and I thought it was worth sharing here:

[Dickens] was not… a ‘proletarian’ writer.  To begin with, he does not write about the proletariat, in which he merely resembles the overwhelming majority of novelists, past and present.  If you look for the working classes in fiction, and especially English fiction, all you find is a hole… a great deal has been written about criminals, derelicts… But the ordinary town proletariat, the people who make the wheels go round, have always been ignored by novelists.  When they do find their way between the covers of a book, it is nearly always as objects of pity or as comic relief.

 

Everything Depends Upon The Job

‘You are free and that is why you are lost’ – Franz Kafka

Whether causal or coincidental, I have happened upon a trough of relative disillusionment and fatigue at about the same moment I endure a spell of inactivity.  I’m sure I will exit this phase, but for now my hobbies and passions are on hold, and I am existing almost without purpose.  The love of my partner is perhaps my only significant motivation.  A rather dreary opening paragraph, but never fear!

Evaluation

Regarding my lack of writing, I feel there are multiple reasons for this, a few from the top of my head are:  Lack of confidence in my ability to write knowledgeably on a given topic; Lack of a given topic in which I am currently deeply involved and that may be of interest to other people to read about; lack of energy and money; lack of structure and discipline; feeling too much pressure and trying too hard to write something that is worthwhile (this can inhibit anyone from writing anything at all); lack of a justification for spending time writing and reading when we are poor and money is not gained from such activities – and the feeling of guilt that stems from dedicating so much time to such artistic and intellectual pursuits when money is what is needed.  Time for spending with family, friends and loved ones is also in demand – how can I write when my love wants to spend time with me on her day off?  The grass needs to be cut too, and I almost always forget to hang the clothes up for drying.

I have stopped playing music.  Stopped listening to music.  Stopped learning German. Despite my socialist viewpoint, I have become less active with politics.  I have become lackadaisical with my reading, and much else.

At the moment, I am frustrated by all this, but, as yet, I am not too worried.  Firstly, I am developing my perception and approach to writing.  Ironically, this facilitates less writing as it requires more reading.  Also, I am using this period of personal uncertainty to question and re-evaluate my life-goals.

An Existensial Crisis?

Most pertinently, I am waiting to start a new job.  Hopefully, it will be the beginning of something new; I know that the recent few years have been consistently disappointing and that my jobs have not been very fulfilling, to say the least.   I have worked too hard, tried too many things, and I probably expected too much.  I put far too much effort and time into some areas, and not enough into others.  I was naive and too ambitious – if one can be too ambitious.  Perhaps my priorities were unwise, but I based my dedication upon the passion and ambition I had for different interests so that I might be successful with them – I was working towards a dream.  In that sense, I think it would be too harsh to say my priorities were completely wrong.   Nonetheless, I needed to slow down and reassess some things.

The first step in resuming activity will be Monday, the first day in the new job.  I pray it will not be as disappointing as my recent roles.  I am not so naive as to think that the disappointment of my recent jobs was not to do with the larger economic and political conditions of Ireland (and Europe) which allow for such exploitative and low-paying positions to be created by employers.  Employees suffer in uncertain and worrying limbo – I am not so naive as to think that my new position will not also be subject to external forces.  Nevertheless, I hope my next employer at least provides the foundation upon which I can begin to live my life in a more fulfilling and ambitious way again; enabled to try my best.

I’m not lost because I’m “free” – I’m not lost at all, though I may feel like that.  I’m simply trapped, grounded by very real circumstances.  It is clear what I need: reliable job, decent money, definite structure, relative security, defined purpose, hobbies, random fun and relaxation.  Society provides the means of achieving those things and can do so depending the economic and social-political conditions.  You are not lost because you are free, you believe you are “free” because you are lost.

Despite the aforementioned, one must do one’s best when the opportunity arises.  I hope that after Christmas, I will have money and that my new job is consistent and (as far as such a position can be) rewarding.  That’s step one.  Step two is establishing myself in the role and my first month’s pay.  After that, I aim to develop more structure in my life, and therefore with the life of my partner whom I love and am dedicated to.  Upon this improved structure I can build goals for my job, my career, and my hobbies.  I can develop my talents and interests further and therefore write about them.  Who knows what will happen?

But everything depends upon the job.

Poll: Should You Judge A Book By Its Publisher?

Oxford and Penguin paperback versions of The Táin.
Oxford and Penguin paperback versions of The Táin.

Browsing through some classics in my local bookshop, I noticed that there were several versions of the same writings, including The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli,The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I realise that with the former two, one could argue that the translations are different, and therefore of differing qualities or significance, and thus influences the overall price.

So let’s take the example of Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, which needs no translation for this Anglophone market so all versions contain the same text.  Of Wuthering Heights, there were three versions by three different publishers; Wordsworth, Collins and Penguin.  Respectively, the prices for each of these were €3.75, €3.15 and €11.  All were paperback editions.

Personally speaking, I like the quality and presentation of Penguin’s books with their black spines and white borders which look neat and consistent on the bookshelf.  Penguin generally has good notes, introduction, historical backgrounds, bibliographies and other such useful extras included which enhance the experience; the paper quality and binding also feel good.  But are these extras worth three to four times the price of paperbacks of the same story from other publishers?

On this occassion, I could not justify paying this much extra for Penguin’s paperback even with these extras, especially when finances are tight, to say the least.  Finally, I decided on the Wordsworth Editions’ version of Wuthering Heights due to its more comfortable size (Collins’ paperback classics are rather small and the font too close to the end of the page for my liking – my thumb gets in the way of the text etc.), and its seemingly in-depth and expert introduction, which seemed more useful and interesting to have than the random dictionary that Collins include at the back of their edition.  I would have preferred the Penguin edition, and, if I was wealthy enough, I probably would have bought their version given its superior quality, extras and appearance.

But my experience got me thinking, and I thought it would make for an interesting and fun poll.  So what do you think?  Would you spend more on a different publisher’s edition of the same story in paperback, or is it all the same?  (I realise that it’s not really a straight forward question, but feel free to leave any qualifying comments, or just general comments, below)