From Irish Political Review: March 2007

Kipling, Connolly And The Kaiser (Part Two)

"The weak an' the lame be blowed!"
Rudyard Kipling

After momentarily taking a 'plague on both your houses' position, from August 1914 until his murder in 1916 Connolly consistently took a pro-German position on the War. And he consistently made it clear what it was he had allied himself to and why.

In The Irish Worker on August 29th 1914., he wrote:

"So other nations began quietly to challenge the unquestioned supremacy of England in the markets. They began first to produce for themselves what they had hitherto relied upon England to produce for them, and passed on from that to enter into competition with English goods in the markets of the world. Foremost and most successful European nation in this endeavour to escape from thraldom of dependence upon England's manufactures stands the German nation. To this contest in the industrial world it brought all the resources of science and systematised effort. Early learning that an uneducated people is necessarily an inferior people, the German nation attacked the work of educating its children with such success that it is now universally admitted that the Germans are the best educated people in Europe. Basing its industrial effort upon an educated working class, it accomplished in the workshop results that this half-educated working-class of England could only wonder at. That English working class trained to a slavish subservience to rule-of-thumb methods, and under managers wedded to traditional processes saw themselves gradually outclassed by a new rival in whose service were enrolled the most learned scientists co-operating with the most educated workers in mastering each new problem as it arose, and unhampered by old traditions, old processes or old equipment. In this fruitful marriage of science and industry the Germans were pioneers, and if it seemed that in starting both they became unduly handicapped it was soon realised that if they had much to learn they had at least nothing to unlearn, whereas the British remained hampered at every step by the accumulated and obsolete survivals of past industrial traditions…

"It was determined that since Germany could not be beaten in fair competition industrially, it must be beaten unfairly by organising a military and naval conspiracy against her. British methods and British capitalism might be inferior to German methods and German capitalism; German scientists aided by German workers might be superior to British workers and tardy British science, but the British fleet was still superior to the German in point of numbers and weight of artillery. Hence it was felt that if the German nation could be ringed round with armed foes upon its every frontier until the British fleet could strike at its ocean-going commerce, then German competition would be crushed and the supremacy of England in commerce ensured for another generation. The conception meant calling up the forces of barbaric powers to crush and hinder the development of the peaceful powers of industry. It was a conception worthy of fiends, but what do you expect? You surely do not expect the roses of honour and civilisation to grow on the thorn tree of capitalist competition – and that tree planted in the soil of a British ruling class". (War Upon The German Nation)

In The Workers' Republic on March 18th., 1916:

"The German Empire is a homogeneous Empire of self-governing peoples; the British Empire is a heterogeneous collection in which a very small number of self-governing communities connive at the subjugation, by force, of a vast number of despotically ruled subject populations.

"We do not wish to be ruled by either empire, but we certainly believe that the first named contains in germ more of the possibilities of freedom and civilisation than the latter." (The German Or The British Empire)

In The Workers' Republic on April 8th., 1916:

"Germany has shown a lesson to the world in this respect. That country had the best educated working class in the world, the greatest number of labour papers, daily, weekly, and monthly, the greatest number of parliamentary and local representatives elected on a working class platform, the greatest number of Socialist votes in proportion to the entire population. All this was an index to the high level of intelligence of the German working class, as well as to their strong political and industrial position. This again was an infallible index to the high civilisation of the whole German nation. Germany had builded well upon the sure foundation of an educated self-respecting people. Upon such a foundation Germany laid her progress in peace, and her success in war." (Forces Of Civilisation)

The Workers' Republic of October 9th., 1915 published a report from the New York Times Magazine reviewing the newly published Socialized Germany by "United States Commissioner of Immigration of the port of New York" Frederick C. Howe—a study of German society which concluded:

"The State socialism of Germany—a condition of government which prevails nowhere else in the world and which has never before prevailed in the world as it does in the Kaiser's domain—is the explanation of Germany's victories in Russia, France, and Belgium; it is the explanation of Germany's ante-bellum victories in manufactures, trade, and shipping. State socialism will permit Germany to turn from war to peace with much the same formidable preparedness with which she turned from peace to war…" (The Secret Of Germany's Success)

Five months later, on February 19th., 1916, The Workers' Republic published a substantial part of the final chapter of Howe's book.

(Connolly And German Socialism by Brendan Clifford, published by Athol Books in 2004, goes into Connolly's position on the War in great detail. It includes the core of The Workers' Republic extract from Socialized Germany, most if not all of The Secret Of Germany's Success, and a great deal more. Frederick Howe was an American lawyer who had gone into public, especially civic, development and reform. He was a member of the Ohio Senate for two years from 1906, director of the New York People's Institute and a founder of the National Progressive Republican League. After the War, in the New Deal years, he was Consumer's Counsel in the Agricultural Adjustment Administration and Special Adviser to Roosevelt's Secretary of Agriculture. A substantial bourgeois with a progressive, reformist, outlook on public affairs.)

While Connolly would not have invited or tolerated German rule in Ireland, he recognised German State Socialism as a framework within which the working class could live free of the fears and debilitating anxieties that plagued workers and their families under the capitalism red in tooth and claw that was the Anglo Saxon ideal (in both Greater Britain and the United States). And he saw how the same state structures which kept the wolf from the worker's door served also to facilitate the peaceful development of working class power, with German Social Democracy growing year by year within them. What had begun as Bismarck's 'bribery' embedded itself contrariwise in German life as the generally accepted condition of working class industrial and political organisation; the social basis of the workers' ever-increasing strength.

What the Kaiser in his council said to the peoples who struggle, and pant, and sweat was anathema to Kipling and the Greater British Lords of Misrule. They cried shame on it, shouting "The weak an' the lame be blowed!". And conspired world war upon it.

But what the Kaiser, presiding over the deliberations of representatives of workers and employers in the Berlin Social Congress, had said was nothing more than a pledge to uphold the dignity of labour. Connolly had no quarrel with that.

Kipling then set himself over the years to further the coming war against the German Nation. And that conspiracy proving at last successful he wrote the poem which begins:

FOR all we have and are,
For all our children’s fate,
Stand up and take the war.
The Hun is at the gate!

The poem that ends:
There is but one task for all—
One life for each to give.
What stands if Freedom fall?
Who dies if England live?

Well, England lived but Kipling's son John was killed in October 1915. It wasn't a blow that gave him pause. Earlier in 1915 he had described the Allied war effort as a simple thing, just "the rampart put up by Man against the Beast". In a speech in 1917 he spoke of how the Germans—

"…do evil deliberately. It is their nature. It is the mark of their nationality. They are like microbes—wherever they abound the evil develops and infects everything roundabout. Civilized nations must resort to the sterilizing process; they must put into force measures of international hygiene. Beware of the German microbe."

After the War Kipling wrote a two-volume history of the Irish Guards (which I haven't got round to reading yet) that I think was probably the last substantial thing he did. Then it was just a matter of endlessly touring war cemeteries and forever railing against the latest depredations of Huns and Bolsheviks. Really, the Great War was in great measure the end of him. We don't think much these days on William Ernest Henley and we hear little enough of Rudyard Kipling.

Connolly's war was not at all like Kipling's. It was neither vicarious nor vicious. It was not immediately victorious either. Connolly brought his army out, it fought well for longer than anyone can have expected and surrendered honourably. After which Connolly, and Patrick Pearse and the others were murdered.

But his army went on to fight the Empire to a standstill, which was the first of many imperial failures down the years. The Empire is gone now and British talk of setting out to rebuild it is all vain and futile.

Paraphrasing the greatest, if almost the only, poet of Greater Britain just so as to give us closure here: A surfeit of frantic boasts. One foolish word too many. The Captains and the Kings depart and all our pomp of yesterday is one with Nineveh and Tyre! Ah well, an empire's only an empire, but a good cigar is a smoke.

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