One of the strongest holds the capitalists have over the minds of the workers is given by the workers’ ready acceptance of the dogmas of patriotism. Before the rise of class society, and even until comparatively modern times before locomotives and steamships broke down geographical barriers, the workers did have a real interest in the country of their birth. But now that independent craftsmen and tillers of the soil have become wage earners the basis of patriotism has gone. Still the sentiment persists when even religion is fast decaying, and the master class who control the forces and services of the State are able to identify their own private interests with the instinctive patriotism of the class which has now no stake in the country. This degenerate patriotism is strong enough in the mother countries of the great empires, but it appears in its most degraded form among the members of the so-called subject races. The British Empire is at once the foremost in power and extent, and it has developed this national spirit in its possessions to the greatest degree. In its modern form patriotism began to become a striking-feature during the last quarter of the nineteenth century when, after the unrivalled trade expansion between 1816 and 1875, a period of depression and competition set in. During the previous period sufficient development on capitalist lines had taken place in India and Egypt to lead to the rise of organised agitation for independence, or at least for some measure of self-government.
There had, of course, always been widespread dislike of the foreign rulers, and to this was now added the resentment of educated natives, lawyers, state officials, merchants, etc., who felt themselves arbitrarily deprived of the best opportunities, and whose discontent was of great importance because it was capable of expression. The growing body of native capitalists and traders were, besides, coming to see what a glorious field of exploitation would be open to them if they could but use this volume of discontent to throw off alien rule. In Ireland, although there was no great gulf of race, historical tradition of suppression and religious bigotry supplied all the necessary zeal to the struggle for independence. There were, too, the very real economic grievances of the Irish farmers and merchants, and these latter, with their intellectual leaders and publicists, were able, without great difficulty, to deceive the workers into the belief that all their troubles, too, were due to foreign tyranny. This was, of course, untrue. The workers’ only useful aim is to dethrone the capitalist class. It has nothing whatever to gain by assisting one group against another. The Irish workers who were foolish enough to help Irish capitalists to win Dominion Status from Great Britain now have the chance to learn that the capitalist system is the same wherever it exists, and whatever the nationality of the rulers who use the State forces to keep the workers’ hands off their property. We, as Socialists, have no sympathy whatever with the demand for independence made by native capitalist groups. We would no mare assist them than assist the British Government against them. A plague on both their houses ! Our only interest is to try to get the workers in both camps to mind their own business and leave this quarrel about the right to exploit to the people who gain from exploitation. Many so-called Socialists think, or at any rate act, differently. Some of them are still very much the victims of the mental disorder called patriotism, and their understanding of Socialism is nil; others are playing a double game which they call “tactics.” They argue that as the people among whom it is desired to propagate Socialism are still entirely wrapped up in all kinds of antiquated illusions, then the way to clear their minds is to tack their superstitions on to the Socialist case. It is hard to imagine anything less calculated to further Socialism. When Socialists are so adaptive that they can be Catholic in Dublin, Protestant in England, Atheist in France, Free Trade, Protectionist, patriots and anti-patriots, their propaganda becomes a farce and they degenerate usually into the more or less open tools of local business interests. Some of our blustering wartime pseudo-Socialist recruiting sergeants had a more intimate connection with the “Trade ” than is gained by looking down a pint pot.
Whatever differences there may have been between the various independence movements, they had one thing in common there was money in them. In addition, the Irish movement lent itself to the vote-catching of the Liberal and Labour Parties in this country. Owing to the brilliant lack of success of the “tactic” in making Socialists, the professional Parliamentarians at the head of numerous stagnant parties in this country were anxiously looking for new sources of revenue. These political brigands, who live on and by the ignorance of the workers, found what they wanted by lending themselves to the political wire-pulling of the subject nations. They were willing (they said in the interests of Socialism) to encourage the vilely anti-Socialist national fanaticism which we find invariably associated with such movements. The Communists of this country have given their indiscriminate support (for what it is worth) to a round half-dozen capitalist movements of this kind, and have attempted to justify their attitude by resurrecting a plea that was familiar and discredited in the Socialist Democratic Federation thirty years ago. They talk about smashing up the Empire as a preliminary to the final struggle with the capitalist class. They forget some things. First, there is no movement or combination of movements which has the power to scratch the British Empire, much less dismember it. Secondly, the effect of their attitude is simply to strengthen the patriotism of the British worker and make him still more ignorant of, and hostile to, Socialism.
Thirdly, assuming independence could be obtained and any real progress took place in the development of Labour movements in these countries, the home capitalists would want to come back into the Empire for the assistance of a strong central Government against their own workers. The stampede back would make their present agitation to get out look sick in comparison. The Irish Communist Party, which ought by now to have learned something from experience, is not one whit better. It has pandered to Catholicism and suppressed the Moscow attitude to religion, and it has stooped so low as to appeal to the foul Jingoism which makes the Irish worker so blind to his class interests.
In the Workers’ Republic, June 23rd, 1923 (official organ of the Communist Party of Ireland), half a column is devoted to the exposure of a “scandal.” The scandal is that the capitalist Free State Government has placed orders for army uniforms in London instead of in Dublin! This staggering charge “can be proved to the hilt if needs be.”
Just consider with me the enormity of it. The Free State capitalists keep troops to protect their property against the propertyless Irish workers. During the last few months, for instance, troops have been openly used to help farmers in Waterford against strikers. If the Communists or anyone else kick against the Free State Government they will get shot, and the remedy they propose is to have the uniforms made in Dublin! They wouldn’t like to be shot by a man in an English-made uniform, but these internationalists will be perfectly happy if the uniforms are made at home. Their joy would have no bounds if the bullets were Irish through and through, and what would happen if they were made by Trade Union labour as well it is beyond me to imagine.
But we must be fair. Communists are economists as well. “Can you wonder why their is so much unemployment in Dublin?” To think, dear reader, that it has never occurred to you that if only all the capitalists had their army uniforms made at home the unemployment problem would be solved. It never struck these Simple Simons that contracts and jobless workers have a habit of going to the best market, and that if, owing to bad trade, prices are lower in Dublin, the English manufacturer would sub-let the work to the Dublin sweat shops, even if they are not, as is probably the case, already working in harmony.
The Workers’ Republic writer, in fact appears to have decidedly more than a grain of sympathy for these clothing bosses; because they “have had to close their doors for want of contracts, and others are standing off their workers for the same reason.” These people occasionally have the nerve to call themselves Marxists!
And the excuse for all this lying and humbug is always the same. They are in a hurry and want to bring the poor benighted workers in. On this ground, more than any other, their policy is damned. Not only are the recruits, soaked in religion and patriotism, totally unreliable and of no conceivable value in their present state for Socialism, but their numbers are not sufficient to justify the telling of the whitest and most forgivable of fibs, let alone the turgid stream of corruption these Communists call propaganda. The sooner they give up pandering to working-class political ignorance and devote themselves to teaching (and learning) Socialism, the sooner will the nationality problem be solved. The capitalists of the subject nations will line up with the Central Government of the Empire for protection against the growing unity of the working class, and the way will be cleared for the real fight — the fight for working-class emancipation.