By James Connolly
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 railways – as 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 to 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 soldiers – enough 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 distribution – the 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 confiscated 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 toilers. 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 country – to 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.
Originally published in Workers’ Republic January 15th 1916
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