Of late we have been getting accustomed to this new phrase, economic conscription, or the policy of forcing men into the army by depriving them of the means of earning a livelihood. In Canada it is called hunger-scription. In essence it consists of a recognition of the fact that the working class fight the battles of the rich, that the rich control the jobs or means of existence of the working class, and that therefore if the rich desire to dismiss men eligible for military service they can compel these men to enlistor starve.
Looking still deeper into the question it is a recognition of the truth that the control of the means of life by private individuals is the root of all tyranny, national, political, militaristic, and that therefore they who control the jobs control the world. Fighting at the front to-day there are many thousands whose whole soul revolts against what they are doing, but who must nevertheless continue fighting and murdering because they were deprived of a living at home, and compelled to enlist that those dear to them may not starve.
Thus under the forms of political freedom the souls of men are subjected to the cruellest tyranny in the worldrecruiting has become a great hunting party which the souls and bodies of men as the game to be hunted and trapped.
Every day sees upon the platform the political representatives of the Irish people, busily engaged in destroying the souls, that they might be successful in hunting and capturing the bodies of Irishmen for sale to the English armies. And every day we feel all around us in the workshop, in the yard, at the docks, in the stables, wherever men are employed, the same
p.121economic pressure, the same unyielding relentless force, driving, driving, driving men out from home and home life to fight abroad that the exploiters may rule and rob at home. The downward path to hell is easy once you take the first step.
The first step in the economic conscription of Irishmen was taken when the employers of Dublin locked their workpeople out in 1913 for daring to belong to the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union. Does that statement astonish you? Well, consider it. In 1913 the employers of Dublin used the weapons of starvation to try and compel men and women to act against their conscience. In 1915 the employers of Dublin and Ireland in general are employing the weapon of starvation in order to compel men to act against their conscience. The same weapon, the same power derived from the same source.
At the first anti-conscription meeting in the City Hall of Dublin we heard an employer declaim loudly against the iniquity of compelling men to act against their conscience. And yet in 1913 the same employer had been an active spirit in encouraging his fellow-employers to starve a whole countryside in order to compel men and women to act against their conscience.
The great lock-out in 1913-14 was an apprenticeship in brutalitya hardening of the heart of the Irish employing classwhose full acts we are only reaping to-day in the persistent use of the weapon of hunger to compel men to fight for a power they hate, and to abandon a land that they love.
If here and there we find an occasional employer who fought us in 1913 agreeing with our national policy in 1915 it is not because he has become converted, or is ashamed of the unjust use of his powers, but simply that he does not see in economic conscription the profit he fancied he saw in denying to his labourers the right to organise in their own way in 1913.
Do we find fault with the employer for following his own interests? We do not. But neither are we under any illusion
p.122as to his motives. In the same manner we take our stand with our own class, nakedly upon our class interests, but believing that these interests are the highest interests of the race.
We cannot conceive of a free Ireland with a subject working class; we cannot conceive of a subject Ireland with a free working class. But we can conceive of a free Ireland with a working class guaranteed the power of freely and peacefully working out its own salvation.
We do not believe that the existence of the British Empire is compatible with either the freedom or security of the Irish working class. That freedom and that security can only come as a result of complete absence of foreign domination. Freedom to control all its own resources is as essential to a community as to an individual. No individual can develop all his powers if he is even partially under the control of another, even if that other sincerely wishes him well. The powers of the individual can only be developed properly when he has to bear the responsibility of all his own actions, to suffer for his mistakes, and to profit by his achievements.
Man, as man, only arrived at the point at which he is to-day as a result of thousands of years of strivings with nature. In his stumblings forward along the ages he was punished for every mistake. Nature whipped him with cold, with heat, with hunger, with disease, and each whipping helped him to know what to avoid, and what to preserve.
The first great forward step of man was made when he understood the relation between cause and effectunderstood that a given action produced and must produce a given result. That no action could possibly be without an effect, that the problem of his life was to find out the causes which produced the effects injurious to him, and having found them out to overcome or make provision against them.
Just as the whippings of nature produced the improvements in the life habits of man, so the whippings naturally following
p.123upon social or political errors are the only proper safeguards for the proper development of nationhood.
No nation is worthy of independence until it is independent. No nation is fit to be free until it is free. No man can swim until he has entered the water and failed and been half drowned several times in the attempt to swim.
A free Ireland would make dozens of mistakes, and every mistake would cost it dear, and strengthen it for future efforts. But every time it, by virtue of its own strength, remedied a mistake it would take a long step forward towards security. For security can only come to a nation by a knowledge of some power within itself, some difficulty overcome by a strength which no robber can take away.
What is that of which no robber can deprive us The answer is, experience. Experience in freedom would strengthen us in power to attain security. Security would strengthen us in our progress towards greater freedom.
Ireland is not the Empire, the Empire is not Ireland. Anything in Ireland that depends upon the Empire depends upon that which the fortunes of war may destroy at any moment, depends upon that which the progress of enlightenment must destroy in the near future. The people of India, of Egypt, cannot be forever enslaved.
Anything in Ireland that depends upon the internal resources of Ireland has a basis and foundation which no disaster to the British Empire can destroy, which disasters to the British Empire may conceivably cause to flourish.
The security of the working class of Ireland then has the same roots as the security of the people of Ireland as a whole. The roots are in Ireland, and can only grow and function properly in an atmosphere of national freedom. And the security of the people of Ireland has the same roots as the security of the Irish working class. In the closely linked modern world no nation can be free which can nationally connive at the enslavement
p.124of any section of that nation. Had the misguided people of Ireland not stood so callously by when the forces of economic conscription were endeavouring to destroy the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union in 1913, the Irish trade unionists would now be in a better position to fight the economic conscription against Irish nationalists in 1915.
The sympathetic strike with its slogan, an injury to one is the concern of all, was then the universal object of hatred. It is now recognised that only the sympathetic strike could be powerful enough to save the victims of economic conscription from being forced into the army.
Out of that experience is growing that feeling of identity of interests between the forces of real nationalism and labour which we have long worked and hoped for in Ireland. Labour recognises daily more clearly that its real well-being is linked and bound up with the hope of growth of Irish resources within Ireland, and nationalists realise that the real progress of a nation towards freedom must be measured by the progress of its most subject class.
We want and must have economic conscription in Ireland for Ireland. Not the conscription of men by hunger to compel them to fight for the power that denies them the right to govern their own country, but the conscription by an Irish nation of all the resources of the nationits land, its railways, its canals, its workshops, its docks, its mines, its mountains, its rivers and streams, its factories and machinery, its horses, its cattle, and its men and women, all co-operating together under one common direction that Ireland may live and bear upon her fruitful bosom the greatest number of the freest people she has ever known.
Conscription means the enforced utilising of all the manhood of a country in order to fight its battles. Economic conscription would mean the enforced use of all the economic powers of a country in order to fight its battles. If it is right to take the manhood it is doubly right to take the necessary property in order to strengthen the manhood in its warfare. An army, according to Napoleon, travels on its stomach, and that being so, all the things that are necessary for the stomach ought to be taken by a national government for the purpose of strengthening its army. Free access to the railways are vital to the very existence of a modern army. For that reason the railways ought to be taken possession of by the Government on the same principle and by the same business method as it takes possession of a conscript. The Government does not pay the mother of a conscript for the long and weary years she has spent in rearing the son of which it takes possession. No, it simply pays him a few pence a day, feeds him, clothes him, and sends him out to be shot. If he is shot she gets nothing for the loss of her son, as she gets nothing for all the love and care and anxiety she spent in giving him life and rearing him to manhood.
The same principle, the same business method, ought to apply to the railways. All the railways ought at once to be confiscated and made public property, no compensation being given to the shareholders any more than is to be given to the fathers and mothers of conscripts.
All ships come under the same general law. The Empire cannot live as an Empire without ships; the troops cannot be transported, provisioned and kept supplied with the materials of war without ships, therefore as sons are to be taken from their mothers all necessary vessels ought at once be taken from their owners, without compensation and without apology.
No matter how much the ships cost. They did not cost their owners as much as the bearing of sons cost the mothers. Take the ships.
Factories also for the production of clothes for the army. The Government should take them; of course you cannot expect soldiers to fight unless they are properly clothed, and you cannot clothe them unless you have the factories to make the clothing. So factories are as important as soldiers. Government is going to take the soldiers from their homes, therefore let it take the factories from the manufacturers. Let it be conscription all round.
There is a grave danger of a famine in this country as the food is limited in quantity owing to the export of so much food to feed the armies abroad. At the same time there is an enormous quantity of splendid land lying idle in demesnes and private estates of the nobility and gentry. This land produces no crops, feeds nobody, and serves no useful purpose whatever. By the same law of necessity upon which the Government stands when it proposes conscription of men it ought also to immediately confiscate all this idle land, and put labourers upon it to grow crops to feed the multitude now in danger of starvation during the coming year.
Will the Government do these things? Will it take the land, will it take the factories, will it take the ships, will it take the railwaysas it proposes to take the manhood? It will not. Should it need those things as it does and will, it will hire them at an exorbitant rate of interest, paying their owners as much for the use of them that those owners will pray for the war to continue for ever and ever, amen.
But the human bodies, earthly tenements of human souls, it will take as ruthlessly and hold as cheaply as possible. For that is the way of governments. Flesh and blood are ever the cheapest things in their eyes.
While we are establishing the Irish Republic we shall need
p.127to reverse that process of valuing things. We must imitate those who have so long been our masters, but with a difference.
We must also conscript. We shall not need to conscript our soldiersenough have already volunteered to carry on the job, and tens of thousands more but await the word. But we shall need to conscript the material; and as the propertied classes have so shamelessly sold themselves to the enemy, the economic conscription of their property will cause few qualms to whomsoever shall administer the Irish Government in the first days of freedom.
All the material of distributionthe railways, the canals, and all their equipment will at once become the national property of the Irish state. All the land stolen from the Irish people in the past, and not since restored in some manner to the actual tillers of the soil, ought at once to be con- fiscated and made the property of the Irish state. Taken in hand energetically and cultivated under scientific methods such land would go far to make this country independent of the ocean-borne commerce of Great Britain. All factories and workshops owned by people who do not yield allegiance to the Irish Government immediately upon its proclamation should at once be confiscated, and their productive powers applied to the service of the community loyal to Ireland, and to the army in its service.
The conscription of the natural powers of the land and the conscription of the mechanical forces having been accomplished, the question of the conscription of the men to defend their new-won property and national rights may follow should it be necessary. But as the Irish state will then be in a position to guarantee economic security and individual freedom to its citizens there will be no lack of recruits to take up arms to safeguard that national independence which they will see to be necessary for the perpetuation of both.
England calls upon its citizens to surrender their manhood to fight for an Empire that cares nothing for their rights as
p.128toilers. Ireland should commence by guaranteeing the rights of its workers to life and liberty, and having guaranteed those rights should then call upon her manhood to protect them with arms in their hands.
Whosoever in future speaks for Ireland, calls Irishmen to arms, should remember that the first duty of Irishmen is to reconquer their countryto take it back from those whose sole right to its ownership is based upon conquest.
If the arms of the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army is the military weapon of, the economic conscription of its land and wealth is the material basis for, that reconquest.