In 1893 Larkin became a foreman dock-porter for T. & J. Harrison Ltd. The following year he was sacked when he went on strike with his men. Larkin remained active in the union and in 1906 he was elected General Organizer of the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL).
Bertram D. Wolfe, who worked with Larkin, later recalled in his book, Strange Communists I Have Known (1966): "James Robert Larkin was a big-boned, large-framed man, broad shoulders held not too high nor too proudly, giving him an air of stooping over ordinary men when he was speaking to them. Bright blue eyes flashed from dark heavy brows; a long fleshy nose, hollowed out cheeks, prominent cheek bones, a long, thick neck, the cords of which stood out when he was angry, a powerful, stubborn chin, a head longer and a forehead higher than in most men, suggesting plenty of room for the brain pan. Big Jim was well over six feet tall, so that I, a six-footer, felt small when I looked up into his eyes. Long arms and legs, great hands like shovels, big, rounded shoes, shaped in front like the rear of a canal boat, completed the picture."
In January 1907 Larkin was sent by his union to Belfast and in his first three weeks recruited over 400 new members. The dock employers became concerned about this development and on 15th July 1907 decided to sack members of the NUDL. This action resulted in a long and bitter industrial dispute.
Larkin was now sent to Dublin to organize casual and unskilled workers in the docks. On 11th August 1907 Larkin formally launched the NUDL in the city. Over the next twelve months Larkin recruited 2,700 men to the union. He also led three strikes and the NUDL, concerned by the costs of these industrial disputes, suspended Larkin on 7th December 1908.
Larkin now established his own union, the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union (ITGWU). As well as Dublin the union had branches in Belfast, Derry and Drogheda. The ITGWU also had a political programme that included a "legal eight hours' day, provision of work for all unemployed, and pensions for all workers at 60 years of age. Compulsory Arbitration Courts, adult suffrage, nationalisation of canals, railways, and all the means of transport. The land of Ireland for the people of Ireland."
As well as organizing strikes he also became involved in the temperance campaign. According to one friend: "He neither drank nor smoked himself, engaging in a one man crusade against the drunkennes which was taken for granted among the rough, poor dockworkers over whom he acquired influence. No one ever heard foul language from his lips. He could be as hot tempered as any man, indeed hotter, but the temper expressed itself in withering repartee, angry condemnation, and scorn, sputtering, unforgettable epithets, never in obscenity."
Larkin became a Christian Socialist: "There is no antagonism between the Cross and socialism! A man can pray to Jesus the Carpenter, and be a better socialist for it. Rightly understood, there is no conflict between the vision of Marx and the vision of Christ. I stand by the Cross and I stand by Karl Marx. Both Capital and the Bible are to me Holy Books."
His belief in industrial militancy upset the leaders of the Irish Trades Union Congress and he was expelled from the organization in 1909. In June 1910 Larkin was found guilty of misappropriating money while working for the NUDL and was sentenced to "one year's hard labour". One local newspaper complained that "Larkin was convicted by a packed jury which excluded Catholics and Nationalists." Many members of the union believed that Larkin had been convicted on false evidence and following a petition from the Dublin Trades Council he was released.
Larkin now established his own left-wing newspaper, The Irish Worker. In its first month, June, 1911, it sold 26,000 copies. In July it was 64,500, in August, 74,750, and in September, 94,994. Considering that Dublin only had a population of 300,000, these were impressive sales figures. It was a campaigning newspaper that named bad employers and corrupt government officials.
In 1912 Larkin joined with James Connolly in forming the Irish Labour Party. Later that year he won a seat on the Dublin Corporation. His success was short-lived as a month after the election he was removed on the grounds that a convicted felon had no right to be a member of the Corporation.
Constance Markievicz heard Larkin speak in 1913: "Sitting there, listening to Larkin, I realised that I was in the presence of something that I had never come across before, some great primeval force rather than a man. A tornado, a storm-driven wave, the rush into life of spring, and the blasting breath of autumn, all seemed to emanate from the power that spoke. It seemed as if his personality caught up, assimilated, and threw back to the vast crowd that surrounded him every emotion that swayed them, every pain and joy that they had ever felt made articulate and sanctified. Only the great elemental force that is in all crowds had passed into his nature for ever."
By 1913 the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union had 10,000 members and had secured wage increases for most of its members. Attempts to prevent workers from joining the ITGWU in 1913 led to a lock-out. When the police lined up to seek an excuse for breaking up one of his mass meetings he turned to his audience and said: "Look at them, well-dressed, well-fed! And who feeds them? You do! Who clothes them? You do! And yet they club you! And why? Because they are organized and disciplined and you are not!"
Larkin was arrested and sentenced to seven months in prison. Protest meetings in England led by James Keir Hardie, Ben Tillett, George Bernard Shaw, Robert Cunninghame Graham, Will Dyson and George Lansbury, resulted in Larkin being released.
However, some leaders of the Labour Party were opposed to Larkin's tactics of trying to encourage other union members to provide industrial support for the workers in Dublin. After railway workers in Liverpool, Birmingham, Derby, Sheffield and Leeds refused to handle traffic from Ireland, Larkin was denounced as the man responsible for introducing revolutionary syndicalism into Britain. In an article published in The Labour Leader, Philip Snowden wrote: "The Old Trade Unionism looked facts in the face, and acted with regard to commonsense. The new Trade Unionism, call it what you will - Syndicalism, Carsonism, Larkinism, does neither."
However, despite raising funds in England and the United States, Larkin's union eventually ran out of money and the men were gradually forced to return to work on their employer's terms. On 30th January 1914, Larkin admitted: "We are beaten, we will make no bones about it; but we are not too badly beaten still to fight."
On the outbreak of the First World War, Larkin called on Irishmen not to become involved in the conflict. In the Irish Worker he wrote: "Stop at home. Arm for Ireland. Fight for Ireland and no other land." He also organized large anti-war demonstrations in Dublin. Leaving James Connolly in charge of the ITGWU, Larkin left for a lecture tour of the United States in October 1914 in order to raise funds to help in the struggle for Irish Independence. In an interview in the New York Call, Larkin argued "that this war is only the outcome of capitalistic aggression, and the desire to capture home and foreign markets."
While in the USA Larkin joined the Socialist Party of America. A close friend of William Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Larkin also became involved in the activities of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). In November 1915 Larkin joined other socialists in attending the funeral of Joe Haaglund Hill.
Larkin was influenced by the writings of Bouck White, especially his book, The Carpenter and the Rich Man (1914): Larkin told one audience: "I belong to the Catholic Church. I stand by the Cross and the Bible and I stand by Marx and his Manifesto. I believe in the creed of the Church, apostolic, Catholic, and Roman. I believe in its saints and its martyrs, their struggles and the sufferings of my people. The history of Ireland is full of the same spirit, the same struggles, the same sufferings, the struggles and sufferings of my people. In my land this is not held against a socialist. It speaks for him. I defy any man here or anywhere to challenge my standing as a Catholic, as a socialist, or as a revolutionist. We of the Irish Citizen's Army take communion before we ge into battle. We confess our sins. We seek absolution. If a bullet strikes, we hope to have the last rites administered to us before our souls leave our bodies. We do not let the Church stand in the way of our struggle, but neither do we let our struggle stand in the way of the Church."
Larkin also mourned the death of his friend, James Connolly, after the Easter Rising in 1916. On 17th March, 1918, Larkin established the James Connolly Socialist Club in New York City and it became the centre of left-wing activities among the Irish socialists in the city. One of the first people to speak at the club was John Reed, who gave a talk on the Russian Revolution.
Impressed with what he heard, Larkin joined the campaign led by Norman Thomas and Scott Nearing, to persuade the American government to recognize the new Soviet government. On 2nd February, 1919, Larkin spoke at a memorial meeting for the German left-wing leaders, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, who had been executed following the Spartacist Rising in Berlin. Larkin upset a large number of people when he claimed that in 1919 "Russia is the only place where men and women can be free".
The right-wing leadership of the Socialist Party of America opposed the Russian Revolution. On 24th May 1919 the leadership expelled 20,000 members including Larkin. Some of these people, including Jay Lovestone, Earl Browder, John Reed, James Cannon, Bertram Wolfe, William Bross Lloyd, Benjamin Gitlow, Charles Ruthenberg, William Dunne, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Louis Fraina, Ella Reeve Bloor, Rose Pastor Stokes, Claude McKay, Max Shachtman, Martin Abern, Michael Gold and Robert Minor, decided to form the American Communist Party. Larkin, concerned about a party that appeared to be under the control of a foreign government, refused to join. Larkin still supported the idea of parliamentary government and was critical of the tendency of its leaders to use "long words and abstract reasoning which went over the brows of the masses".
The support by radicals for the Russian Revolution worried Woodrow Wilson and his administration and America entered what became known as the Red Scare period. On 7th November, 1919, the second anniversary of the revolution, Alexander Mitchell Palmer, Wilson's attorney general, ordered the arrest of over 10,000 suspected communists and anarchists. This included Larkin who was charged with "advocating force, violence and unlawful means to overthrow the Government".
Larkin's trial began on 30th January 1920. He decided to defend himself. He denied that he had advocated the overthrow of the Government. However, he admitted that he was part of the long American revolutionary tradition that included Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He also quoted Wendell Phillips in his defence: "Government exists to protect the rights of minorities. The loved and the rich need no protection - they have many friends and few enemies."
The jury found Larkin guilty and on 3rd May 1920 he received a sentence of five to ten years in Sing Sing. In prison Larkin worked in the bootery, manufacturing and repairing shoes. Despite his inability to return to Ireland, he was annually re-elected as general secretary of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union.
In November 1922, Alfred Smith won the election for Governor in New York. A few days later he ordered an investigation of the imprisonment of Larkin and on 17th January 1923 he granted him a free pardon. Larkin returned home to a triumphant reception. However, the new leader of the ITGWU, William O'Brien, was unwilling to step aside and managed to get Larkin expelled from the union in March 1924.
Larkin now established a new union, the Workers' Union of Ireland (WUI). He also became head of the Irish section of the Comintern and visited the Soviet Union in 1924. According to Bertram D. Wolfe he was not impressed with the communist system: "In 1924, the Moscow Soviet invited Larkin to come to its sessions as a representative of the people of Dublin, but he found nothing there to attract him, nor could they see their man in this wild-hearted rebel. I met him then, in the dining room of a Moscow hotel, where he was raising a series of scandals about the food, the service, and the obtuseness of waiters who could not understand plain English spoken with a thick Irish brogue... The Moscovites were glad when this eminent Dubliner returned to his native land."
Larkin successfully built up the WUI and in February 1932 won the North Dublin seat in the Dáil Éireann. However, he lost the seat in January 1933. Larkin was also forced to close down The Irish Worker. Later he started another radical newspaper, Irish Workers' Voice. He also served on the Dublin Trades Council, on the Port and Docks Board and the Dublin Corporation.
In the next election he won the North-East Dublin seat. However, in 1944 he was once again defeated at the polls. The following year his application to join the Irish Labour Party was finally accepted. James Larkin died in his sleep on 30th January, 1947. At his funeral Sean Casey said that Larkin had brought to the labour movement not only the loaf of bread but the flask of wine. Bertram D. Wolfe added: "James Larkin had outlived his time. He did not fit into the orderly, constructive, bureaucratized labour movement any more than he was suited to be a puppet of Moscow."
(1) James Sexton, leader of the National Union of Dock Labourers, wrote about James Larkin in his autobiography, Agitator (1934)
Larkin displayed an energy that was almost superhuman. The division was one of the storm centres of religious strife, and the stronghold of the Orange Order, through whom Mr. Houston held the seat. My being a Roman Catholic naturally made the situation still more lively. But nothing could frighten Jim. He plunged recklessly into the fray where the fighting was most furious, organized gigantic processions against Chinese labour on the Rand, faced hostile mobs saturated with religious bigotry who were howling for our blood, and last but by no means least competed with our opponents in the risky game of impersonation then played at almost every election in Liverpool. I am convinced that it was largely owing to Larkin's overwhelming labours that we reduced a Tory majority from four thousand to five hundred, but I would rather not give my opinion on some of the methods he adopted to achieve that highly commendable result.
(2) Bertram D. Wolfe, Strange Communists I Have Known (1966)
James Robert Larkin was a big-boned, large-framed man, broad shoulders held not too high nor too proudly, giving him an air of stooping over ordinary men when he was speaking to them. Bright blue eyes flashed from dark heavy brows; a long fleshy nose, hollowed out cheeks, prominent cheek bones, a long, thick neck, the cords of which stood out when he was angry, a powerful, stubborn chin, a head longer and a forehead higher than in most men, suggesting plenty of room for the brain pan. Big Jim was well over six feet tall, so that I, a six-footer, felt small when I looked up into his eyes. Long arms and legs, great hands like shovels, big, rounded shoes, shaped in front like the rear of a canal boat, completed the picture...
When Larkin spoke, his blue eyes flashed and sparked. He roared and thundered, sputtered and - unless a stage separated him from the public - sprayed his audience with spittle. Sometimes an unruly forelock came down on his forehead as he moved his head in vigorous emphasis. Impulsive, fiery, passionate, swift at repartee, highly personal, provocative, and hot tempered in attack, strong and picturesque of speech, Larkin's language was rich in the turns of Irish poetic imagery sprinkled with neologisms of his own devising. Particularly in front of an Irish or an Irish-American audience, or an audience of bewildered foreign-born socialists unprepared for poetry and religion in Marxist oratory, he was the most powerful speaker in the left wing socialist movement.
(3) James Larkin wrote about his work in the National Union of Dock Labourers in the Irish Worker (22nd November 1924)
I turned my attention to a body of men who were the most degraded, harrassed body of workers I had ever any experience of in my chequered career - the iron ore workers who discharged the boats from Spain on the Govan side of the River. They were mostly North of Ireland men who lived in lodging houses. They were exploited in every cruel way. They were engaged by the hour, and at all hours of the day and night they were put on, according to the number of railway wagons available for loading. No regulations, no considerations given them. They might work one hour loading the wagons available, then stand by for two or three hours, or maybe half a day - get one or more hour's work, draw the few coppers. They were supposed to get 8d. per hour - when working - and what work these men had to carry out cannot be expressed in words. Only men who have shovelled Calcined iron ore or Manganese ore can appreciate their labour. They were in a continual state of semi-starvation and drunkenness. These were the first human beings that I had ever seen drinking methylated spirits or, as it is called in Dublin, 'Spunk'. Many of them never sought even the shelter of a lodging-house, for the doss house charged not less than 4d. Per night. A few among them - not lost to all sense of manhood - had tried, time and again, to organise their fellows, but failure attended their efforts.
(4) James Larkin, political programme of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union (December, 1908)
A legal eight hours' day, provision of work for all unemployed, and pensions for all workers at 60 years of age. Compulsory Arbitration Courts, adult suffrage, nationalisation of canals, railways, and all the means of transport. The land of Ireland for the people of Ireland.
(5) Freeman's Journal (1st October, 1910)
The circumstances under which Mr. Larkin was convicted and sentenced, in June last, are still fresh in the memory of that part of the public who take an interest in Labour disputes and their consequences, and the announcement that he will be released on October 1st causes no surprise because it was strongly felt by the public at the time of the trial that although technically he had broken the law he had been guilty of no moral turpitude, that the sentence was altogether disprotionate to the offence, and that, in fact, it ought not be allowed to stand.
(6) Jim Larkin, Irish Worker (3rd June, 1911)
How much does ex-Alderman Irwin pay his work girls per week? How much per hour overtime? How much does he fine them per month?
How much did Councillor Crozier pay for the last lot of house property he bought from the Corporation?
Will Jamsey Fox, Councillor, P.L.G., election agent, ward heeler, etc. tell us how much the boys in the Corporation service collected for him.
(7) Jim Larkin, Irish Worker (26th April, 1913)
What is the problem? Allow me to state it as I see it. The employers desire to carry on industry and accumulate profits. The workers desire to live. The employers cannot carry on industry nor accumulate profits if they have not got the good will of the workers or their acquiescence in carrying on such industry. The workers must work to live; therefore it is to the interest of both parties that a mutual arrangement should be brought about. A mutual arrangement, I repeat, is the only satisfactory medium whereby the present system can be carried on with any degree of satisfaction, and in such an arrangement the employers have more to gain than the workers. I am, of course, aware that the ultimate solution is the ownership and control of the means of life by the whole of the people; but we are not at that stage of development as yet. Therefore it is essential that some means should be sought whereby the work of the nation may be carried on without constant yet at present necessary dislocation. The Strike is a damnable but necessary evil at present, and if it is possible to limit them in number, place and magnitude, all thinking people should assist to that desirable end. I therefore place before you in a general way a scheme which I have submitted to employers and workers upon a former occasion, and to use a formalism, anything not set down in this scheme can be added thereto, anything objectionable therein will be, I hope, worthy of discussion.
(8) Jim Larkin, speech attacking employers in Dublin was quoted in the Freeman's Journal (6th October, 1913)
They take to themselves that they have all the rights that are given to men and to societies of men, but they deny the right of the men to claim that they also have a substantial claim on the share of the produce they produce, and they further say they want no third party interference. They want to deal with their workingmen individually. It means that the men who hold the means of life control our lives, and, because we workingmen have tried to get some measure of justice, some measure of betterment, they deny the right of the human being to associate with his fellow. Why the very law of nature was mutual co-operation. Man must be associated with his fellows. The employers were not able to make their own case. Let him help them. What was the position of affairs in connection with life in industrial Ireland? There are 21,000 families - four and a half persons to a family - living in single rooms. Who are responsible? The gentlemen opposite to him would have to accept the responsibility. Of course they must. They said they control the means of life; then the responsibility rests upon them. Twenty-one thousand people multiplied by five, over a hundred thousand people huddled together in the putrid slums of Dublin.
(9) Jim Larkin, Open Letter to the Dublin Employers, Irish Times (6th October, 1913)
I address this warning to you, the aristocracy of industry in this city, because, like all aristocracies, you tend to grow blind in long authority, and to be unaware that you and your class and its every action are being considered and judged day by day by those who have power to shake or overturn the whole Social Order, and whose restlessness in poverty today is making our industrial civilisation stir like a quaking bog.
Your insolence and ignorance of the rights conceded to workers universally in the modern world were incredible, and as great as your inhumanity. If you had between you collectively a portion of human soul as large as a three-penny bit, you would have sat night and day with the representatives of labour, trying this or that solution of the trouble, mindful of the women and children, who at least were innocent of wrong against you. But no! You reminded labour you could always have your three square meals a day while it went hungry. You went into conference again with representatives of the State, because, dull as you are, you know public opinion would not stand your holding out. You chose as your spokesman the bitterest tongue that ever wagged in this island, and then, when an award was made by men who have an experience in industrial matters a thousand times transcending yours, who have settled disputes in industries so great that the sum of your petty enterprises would not equal them, you withdraw again, and will not agree to accept their solution, and fall back again upon your devilish policy of starvation. Cry aloud to Heaven for new souls! The souls you have got cast upon the screen of publicity appear like the horrid and writhing creatures enlarged from the insect world, and revealed to us by the cinematograph.
You may succeed in your policy and ensure your own damnation, by your victory. The men whose manhood you have broken will loathe you, and will always be brooding and scheming to strike a fresh blow. The children will be taught to curse you. The infant being moulded in the womb will have breathed into its starved body the vitality of hate. It is not they - it is you who are blind Samsons pulling down the pillars of the social order. You are sounding the death knell of autocracy in industry. There was autocracy in political life, and it was superseded by democracy. So surely will democratic power wrest from you the control of industry. The fate of you, the aristocracy of industry, will be as the fate of the aristocracy of land if you do not show that you have some humanity still among you. Humanity abhors, above all things, a vacuum in itself, and your class will be cut off from humanity as the surgeon cuts the cancer and alien growth from the body.
(10) James Larkin, speech reported in the Freeman's Journal (27th October, 1913)
I have tried to kill sectarianism, whether in Catholics or Protestants. I am against bigotry or intolerance on either side.
Those who want to divide the workers have resorted to the foulest methods. I have not read the evening papers, but I am informed vile things are stated in them. They have lit a fire in Ireland they will never put out. There will be a cry raised in England, Scotland, and Wales which will not be quietened for some time.
For years and years I have done the work I was born for. I have proved there were 21,000 families living five in a room in Dublin. Call that Catholicism, Christianity! It is something different. I have raised the morals and sobriety of the people. Even Murphy says Larkin has done good, but "hands off the trams". I have taken no man's honour or no woman's honour. I never stood in a public house bar and alcoholic drink never touched my lips. I am careful about my conduct because I know this cause requires clean men.
(11) Irish Times (3rd February, 1914)
The settlement of the strike has, in fact, settled nothing. The very necessary business of "smashing Larkin" is successfully accomplished; but that is very far from being the same thing as "smashing Larkinism". There is no security whatever that the men who are now going about their work brooding over the bitterness of defeat will not endeavour to reorganize their broken forces, and, given another leader and another opportunity, strike a further and a more desperate blow at the economic life of Dublin.
(12) Countess Constance Markievicz heard James Larkin speak during the industrial dispute in 1913.
Sitting there, listening to Larkin, I realised that I was in the presence of something that I had never come across before, some great primeval force rather than a man. A tornado, a storm-driven wave, the rush into life of spring, and the blasting breath of autumn, all seemed to emanate from the power that spoke. It seemed as if his personality caught up, assimilated, and threw back to the vast crowd that surrounded him every emotion that swayed them, every pain and joy that they had ever felt made articulate and sanctified. Only the great elemental force that is in all crowds had passed into his nature for ever.
(13) James Larkin, speech at the Irish Trade Union Congress (1914)
Comrades - We are living in momentous times. We are now on the threshold of a newer movement, with a newer hope and a new inspiration. The best thanks we could offer those who went before and raised the Irish working class from their knees was to press forward with determination and enthusiasm towards the ultimate goal of their efforts, a Co-operative Commonwealth for Ireland.
The question of religion was a matter for each individual's conscience, and in a great many cases was the outcome of birth or residence in a certain geographical area. Claiming for ourselves liberty of conscience, liberty to worship, we shall see to it that every other individual enjoys the same right. Intolerance has been the curse of our country. It is for us to preach the gospel of tolerance and comradeship for all women and men. There must be freedom for all to live, to think, to worship, no book, no avenue must be closed. By God's help, and the intelligent use of their own strong right arms they could accomplish great things.
(14) James Larkin, speech in New York, quoted in Gaelic American (14th November, 1914)
I call to your memories tonight the three men who died in Manchester prison on that dark and gloomy morning in 1867 - Allen, Larkin and O'Brien. They came from a class of men who have always been true to Ireland and who never failed her yet - the men of the working class. There is one grand, glorious page in Irish history that has never yet been turned down or besmirched, and that is the page that records in undying words the fact that the Irish working class never deserted her
or betrayed her.
It takes great strength, great courage to be a man, and those men were born of a race that never lacked in courage. We make mistakes, we have our faults, and God knows some of us have more than our share, but when danger threatens and duty calls, we go smiling to our own funeral.
Larkin, Allen and O'Brien are dead - so they say. It is not true. Larkin, Allen and O'Brien live, and not only in the spirit, but in the flesh, because of you who are here tonight. While there is one man left in Ireland who defied the British Government, Ireland is not conquered, and Allen, Larkin and O'Brien are not dead. True there are some, a few, a very few Irishmen who would sell their birthright - aye, and they would sell the mother who bore them - but, thank God, the heart of Ireland is true and strong. She still breeds men determined some day to break the shackles and stand erect as free-born men.
Speaking generally of the country, I assure you that the workers of Ireland are on the side of the dear, dark-haired mother, whose call they never failed to answer yet.
We have altogether about 5,000 rifles. We have few bayonets. We have little ammunition; that is the only difficulty we have. We have got the men. Believe me, and I would not deceive you, the men who are in our movement in Ireland - the men who are the backbone of any movement - are solid and united and are only waiting for a defeat of some magnitude when the word will go out again; again will the call ring out over hill and dale to the men who always answered the call of Caithlin-ni-Houlihan.
Are we not worthy of our fathers? The purpose of this meeting tonight is not merely to listen to the singing, which has been very beautiful and very stimulating. You have come here tonight whole-heartedly and earnestly, determined to fight and work, and sometimes it is harder to work than to fight. My appeal to you is: Give us money or give us guns, and by the Living God who gave us life we'll not fail you and we'll not fail the mother of our race, I plead with you. You do not know the times you are living in.
For seven hundred long and weary years, we have waited for this hour. The flowing tide is with us and we deserve to be relegated to oblivion if we are not ready for the 'Rising of the Moon'.
(15) James Larkin, speech quoted in Gaelic American (5th December, 1914)
Why should Ireland fight for Britain in this war? What has Britain ever done for our people? Whatever we got from her we wrested with struggle and sacrifice. No, men and women of the Irish race, we shall not fight for England. We shall fight for the destruction of the British Empire and the construction of an Irish republic. We shall not fight for the preservation of the enemy, which has laid waste with death and desolation the fields and hills of Ireland for 700 years. We will fight to free Ireland from the grasp of that vile carcase called England.
(16) New York Times (3rd February, 1919)
When a man speaking in an American city excites the applause of numerous auditors by telling them that "Russia is the only place where men and women can be free," the fact raises a good many rather serious questions.
The first of them - Why did he make a statement at once so stupid and so false? - is easily answered. The speaker was James Larkin, who is himself as much a Bolshevik as he can find time to be in the moments when he does not have to be a Sinn Feiner and an exponent of what in this country is the I.W.W. But this statement was made in Boston, and it is difficult to understand there of more than a small handful of out-and-out lunatics that are desirous of having the only sort of freedom now existing in Russia. It is the freedom of a small class to kill and steal, and the freedom of everybody else to be murdered and robbed.
Of course Mr. Larkin would not put the case exactly that way, but no other way suggested itself to him, so he abstained from what he knew or felt would be the dangers of definition. Mr. Larkin has been credited with ability of a kind and with moving eloquence. That is what makes him dangerous, but one observes that he prefers America to Russia as a place in which to do his preaching.
(17) James Larkin, speech at his trial during the Red Scare (3rd May, 1920)
What does all this mean for the freedom of thought and inquiry? Why Einstein and men like him would not be allowed to function, would not be allowed to think. You would have no field of activity either in religion, in art or in science. State functionaries are going to put a steel cap on the minds of the people of this country and they are going to screw it down until they make you all one type.
I have been a man who has always abhorred violence, because I have been brutally abused by this organized force. Who used force and violence? "Is it the strong that use force? Is it the strong that use violence?" It is always the weak, the cowardly, those who can only live by conservatism and force and violence. It has always been down the ages the weak, the bigoted, those who lack knowledge, that have always used force and violence against the advancement of knowledge.
Gentlemen, some day you in America will be told the truth. In the meantime we who have been on the housetops telling the truth have to suffer. We have to go down the dark days and the dark nights, but we go there with the truth in our eyes and our hearts, and no lie upon our lips.
I have read Wendell Phillips since I was a boy. Wendell Phillips says, "Government exists to protect the rights of minorities. The loved and the rich need no protection - they have many friends and few enemies."
The ways of the broad highways have been my ways and I have never been encompassed by walls, and so it may be tomorrow - you may decide that in the interest of this great Republic of 110,000,000 people, this individual will have to be put away for five or ten years.
I do not object to your doing it. I say you have a right in honor and truth, if you believe this man has ever been guilty of any crime against your country, stand by your country, live by its people, live always in its interest. I have always done that with my country, and that is the reason I stand practically without anybody of my own people standing with me except the poor and unfortunate. I have got Irishmen, and Irishmen in this country, who believe in me and who will see to it that I have got a decent chance; and to those who belong to me at home they have always known me, always known what I stood for, and my wife and children will be looked after.
(18) Bertram D. Wolfe, Strange Communists I Have Known (1966)
In 1924, the Moscow Soviet invited Larkin to come to its sessions as a representative of the people of Dublin, but he found nothing there to attract him, nor could they see "their man" in this wild-hearted rebel. I met him then, in the dining room of a Moscow hotel, where he was raising a series of scandals about the food, the service, and the obtuseness of waiters who could not understand plain English spoken with a thick Irish brogue. Once the usual piece of horse meat in cabbage soup, tough as leather, which was served as the main course and called shchi, yielded to an unexpected delicacy, beet borshch. But from Jim's table came the angry cry, "Ye can't make me eat this blood soup!" The result was consternation...
The climax came when Moscow tried to tell Jim Larkin of his duty to "defend the Soviet Union in the face of the war danger." "What God damned fool of a general," he demanded, "would ever try to invade this frozen land?" The Moscovites were glad when this eminent Dubliner returned to his native land.