James Connolly


Party Politicians – Noble, Ignoble and Local


Labour Chronicle (Edinburgh), 1 December 1894.
Republished in Owen Dudley Edwards & Bernard Ransom (eds.), James Connolly: Selected Political Writings, New York 1974.

Transcription & HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Plain Talk

By R. Ascal

The Czar is dead and the elections are over. The new Czar has issued a manifesto, and Bailie M’Donald is now Lord Provost. The peace of Europe is still maintained, the Nihilists are plotting in silence, and Councillor Waterston has been and gone and done it.

A Tory Lord Provost rules over Liberal Edinburgh, and Councillor Sir James Russell sits and sighs and wishes his name was Blaikie.

Edinburgh Town Council attended Divine Service in Hope Park U.P. Church on Sunday, 18th November, in honour of the Lord Provost, who is a member of that congregation. I wonder if they meant it.

The Liberals have threatened to oppose Mr Waterston because he voted for Provost M’Donald. Councillor Robertson declared at the Council meeting he was in favour of the honours going round, and would have voted against Sir James Russell had a really capable man been brought forward, but he would not vote for M’Donald.

And yet they all went to church in honour of Lord Provost M’Donald. Otherwise, I presume, they would not have gone at all.

This is the final outcome of the municipal elections: all the old gang are returned to office, and the municipal life of Edinburgh in the ensuing year will be marked by the same scrupulous regard to economy (in wages) and efficiency (in jobbery) to which we have been so well accustomed in the past.

The Social Democrats were defeated. On the authority of the celebrated representative of culture, Mr Francis M’Aweeney, we are told they received “a crushing blow”, yet a more jubilant lot of men and women it would have been impossible to find on the day after the election.

An opponent passing under the windows of their Committee Room an hour after the result of the poll was declared, on hearing the jubilant speeches and enthusiastic cheering of the Socialists, was constrained to remark to a companion, that the Social Democrats receive a defeat better than their enemies do a victory.

And he was right. Some defeats are better than victories. A defeat endured as the result of contest conducted in a fair and honourable manner is a thousand times more creditable to the defeated party than a victory gained by all the mean and unscrupulous arts of the wirepullers.

The Socialists did not send any carriages for their lady supporters; they did not have committee rooms outside the polling booth, and, waylaying unfortunate voters, rush them in, and then escort them between tall hats and frock coats, to record their votes in favour of the rights of property; they did not tell Irish Catholics that Mr Connolly was a Freethinker, who wanted to overthrow the Church, and then tell old Scotch women of both sexes that Mr Connolly was an Irish Papist who wanted to introduce the Scarlet Woman; they did not seek the support of the Unionists by telling of the letter of recommendation from a leading Edinburgh Unionist; and seek the support of the Home Rulers by calling to their aid every quondam Home Ruler, or leader, who could be induced to sell his name, and voice, and birthright for the ill-smelling pottage of Liberal promises.

The Social Democrats were defeated. But last year the vote polled in George Square Ward for the I.L.P. candidate was only one-thirteenth of the total poll, whereas in St Giles, the vote for the avowed Social Democrat reached one-seventh of the total poll. A great advance, truly.

The official Liberal – backed by all the strength, reputation, and admirable electioneering organisation of the combined Liberal and Nationalist parties, and aided by the avowed support of the. most influential Unionists in the ward, with a known man and a lawyer as their candidate, were yet only able ~o obtain a majority of four to one over a party the most revolutionary and the most recent in public life, with no electioneering organisation, and with a candidate known to earn his bread by following an occupation most necessary in our city life, but nevertheless universally despised by the public opinion of aristocratic Edinburgh.

It is to be hoped that next year the Ward will not be troubled with the presence of another bogus Unionist candidate.

Had there been no Unionist, and had the advanced working-class voters been left free to choose between the revolutionary Social-Democrat and the orthodox Liberal and defender of the rights of property, there is little doubt the result of the poll would not have brought much comfort to the enemies of Socialism.

But hundreds of men, who would otherwise have voted Socialist, cast their votes reluctantly for Mr Mitchell as the candidate most likely to ensure the defeat of the Tory.

They will now have twelve months in which to meditate on the difference between the Liberal Tweedledee and the Tory Tweedledum, and after having so meditated they are invited to record the result of their studies at the polling booth on the first Tuesday of November 1895, if not before.

There is great heartburning in certain Liberal circles in Edinburgh over a matter which does not affect the working-class voter. It is an invitation to an ‘At Home’, to be held in the Waterloo Rooms, Glasgow, by Lady Helen Ferguson of Novar.

All the gentlemen whose purses are in the habit of opening for the relief of distressed M.P.s and huckstering politicians in general, together with a few who have remained obdurate in spite of the pathetic appeals of Messrs Donworth and Dillon, are invited to this great social function.

Class the first will be thanked for their splendid devotion to the cause of Liberalism, and class the second will, it is hoped, be so overwhelmed with the magnificent display, and so enchanted by the bright smiles of the delegates from the Ladies’ Liberal Association that they will open their hearts and their purses also, and all will be well.

By such means are replenished the Liberal coffers, and the Liberal working-man throws his cap in the air, and when he meets his Socialist comrade asks – “Where is the Tory gold?”

And his Socialist comrade, who has been stinting himself of his glass of beer in order to pay the election expenses of his candidate usually scratches his head and wonders also – “Where is the Tory gold?”

Gold of any kind or colour is a very scarce commodity in a Socialist committee room. N.B. – Those who do not believe this should come and join us and get a share of the plunder. Entry-money, sixpence; weekly subscription, one penny. – ADVT.

Any orthodox Liberal or Tory politician will tell you that one cause of the great misery among the working-class is to be found in the alarming prevalence of early marriages.

Yet in face of this lamentable fact, we are informed that his Grace the Duke of Argyll, who is 71 years of age, is about to get married to his third wife. As this step may lead to a still further increase in our pauper population, it is to be hoped wiser counsels will prevail and prevent the young couple taking the final disastrous step.

Ambrose Malvern, aged 68, committed suicide by jumping from a hotel window. This young man had married a widow the previous day. So I read in a contemporary. If some one will undertake to send this to his Grace the Duke of Argyll he might yet pause in his headlong career, and the nation be saved from an~ impending calamity.

Mr William M’Ewan, M.P., gave £50,000 to assist in building a new wing to Edinburgh University. We gave thanks. Edinburgh Town Council, having a love for the beautiful, spent £70,000 in obtaining for the citizens a better view of M’Ewan’s £50,000. Again we gave thanks. The first act of the newly-elected Town Council was to accept an estimate for the proposed widening of the North Bridge and refuse to insert in it a clause requiring the payment of the current rate of wages. The labouring people who voted for the return of the old gang to office are still giving thanks.

We are a great people.

I hear the Rev. Mr Jackson, at a meeting in the Albert Hall, on Sunday, 18th November, declared his Socialism was of the kind endorsed by the Trades Union Congress at their recent meeting in Norwich. If this is true the rev, gentleman is eligible for membership of the I.L.P. or S.S.F., and I would advise him to enter into communication with one or other of these bodies, and take his proper place in the communion of the faithful.

But before admission he might, as a public character, be required to give some practical proofs of his sincerity. Not that we would expect him, as a follower of Him of Nazareth, to “sell all he has and give it to the poor,” as one would-be follower was required to do. Oh, no, our latter-day Christianity is far too ‘practical’ to adopt such hare-brained theories of restitution as that implied in the aforementioned utterance of their Master.

But a certain colleague of Mr Jackson on the School Board has recently made an effort to deprive the women cleaners employed by that body of their wages, that is of their means of life, during sickness. Will Mr Jackson preach a sermon on the subject, taking for his text the injunction, “Rob not the poor because he is poor.”

Or will he allow the Edinburgh Socialists the free use of his hall, or church, for the purpose of conducting a fortnight’s mission to clergymen. Subject of mission: Instruction in the use of the Divine command, “Love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Until our reverend friend is prepared to give such practical proofs of his Socialism will he please remember that “Faith without works is dead.”

The conduct of the Edinburgh School Board, coupled with the conduct of the Town Council in refusing to insert the fair wages clause in a most important contract, should help to clear the cobwebs from the eyes of the intelligent voters and enable them to appreciate the necessity for an infusion of new Socialistic blood into all our public bodies.

For some time to come the work of Socialists on all such bodies will not be so much to pass new laws as to infuse into their administration the spirit of the new life, to use all power to inaugurate the reign of justice, to convert our industrial system from a machine for making profit into an instrument for sustaining life, to transform our politics from the government of men into the wise and well-ordered administration of things, to relegate to the limbo of exploded superstitions the old doctrine of freedom of contract between affluence and starvation, and thus, by constantly placing our doctrines and our efforts upon the same platform as the class interests of the workers, to create such a public feeling in our favour as shall enable us to bridge the gulf between the old order and the new, and lead the people from the dark Egypt of our industrial anarchy, into the Promised Land of industrial freedom.

The return of a Socialist candidate does not then mean the immediate realisation of even the programme of palliatives commonly set before the electors. Nay, such programmes are in themselves a mere secondary consideration, of little weight, indeed, apart from the spirit in which they will be interpreted.

The election of a Socialist to any public body at present, is only valuable in so far as it is the return of a disturber of the political peace.

Until Socialism attains such a foothold in this country as shall enable the Socialists to return a majority to the public bodies which rule the country, every fresh seat captured must simply be regarded as a fresh means of spoiling the little games of the Jabezian philanthropists, financial jobbers, and political thimbleriggers, who thrive on their reputations as Liberal and Tory politicians.

If only for the value of letting the light of public opinion in on the doings of officialdom, we should never relax our efforts until every representative body has its full quota of Socialist members.

While on this matter, it would be as well to keep in mind the fact, that under the Local Government (Scotland) Act, which comes into force in April of 1895, the Poor Law system of this country will be at last placed under democratic control.

The workers will then have an opportunity of humanising this iniquitous system, by placing upon every Parish Council a sufficient number of Social Democrats to counteract the despotic tendencies of our Liberal and Tory taskmasters.

The poor paupers, the war-worn veterans who have fallen in the battle of life, who are imprisoned in those bastilles of poorhouses, may now have the closing years of their lives lightened and brightened by the action of an intelligent Social Democracy.

To every upholder of the present system the poorhouse inmates are a mere burden on the rates, or an intolerable nuisance to honest folk, who are well done for if they are fed and sheltered at all. But to the Social Democrat they are unfortunate victims of an evil social system. They are. our brothers and sisters, crushed beneath the wheels of a remorseless competition. They are the effect of which the landlord and capitalist are the cause.

We have so long been accustomed to receive without question the teachings of the master class, that it is no wonder the poorhouse dole and poor-relief should be regarded amongst us as degrading to the recipient instead of to society at large. But it is on society at large, and on its supporters and apologists, the real stigma should rest. Indeed, it would be well for the workers as a whole if they could come to look upon the poor- rates as their first means of relief instead of as their last resource.

Man, as a social animal, has a claim upon the society which gave him birth. This claim is his right to live as long as he is willing to perform his share of the labour necessary to his own maintenance and the maintenance of society at large. This claim involves, in the first place, the right of free access to the means of life; in the second place, the duty of contributing to the support of the weaker members of the community, i.e., children, the sick, infirm, and the aged.

Our Poor Law system is a grudging admission of the truth of this thesis, granted by the classes as an alternative to a troubled social upheaval. It has been surrounded since its inception with every form of insult and degradation their mean and petty minds could devise, until, today, the hideous uniform of the pauper is loathed more than the garb of the convict.

Thus, our masters have striven to debase this institution, whose existence in our midst they feel to be a standing reproach to the devil-take-the-hindmost theory, with which they wish to govern society.

To rescue our Poor Law from their hands, to relieve it from the false ideals with which its administration has been cursed, and to make its administrators in very truth guardians of the poor, this should be the aim of the workers. By so directing their efforts they may create, out of the framework of our Parish Councils, a public body, who, in solicitude for the public welfare and thoughtful provision for the weaker members of our human family, will find the same incentive to effort as the Liberal and Tory politicians find in the grosser pursuit of the glittering spoils of office.

But such a body can only arise out of that higher conception of human rights and duties which will flow from a wide and general acceptance of the principles of enlightened Social Democracy.


Last updated on 11.8.2003