James Connolly, the Wobblies & the US Golden Years - Alan Stewart | An Spréach

Relatively little has been written about the years that the great revolutionary socialist, James Connolly, spent in America.

In 1902 James Connolly had toured the United States.  There he had lectured on political philosophy and on a range of trade union topics.

In 1903 he returned to Dublin.  However he had a wife and six children to support.  His income was simply not sufficient to make ends meet.  So he decided to seek work in America.

He duly set off, travelling ahead of his family.  His wife Lillie stayed behind for a time to prepare their children for the voyage.  It was around this time, tragically, that their eldest daughter died in an accident.

On his arrival Connolly soon moved to Troy, New York (where there is now a statue of him).  He worked for the Metropolitan Insurance Company as a salesman until the recession caused the firm to falter.  He then went to Newark, New Jersey where he got a job with the Singer Sewing Machine Company.

By this time Connolly's family had joined him and he was heavily involved politically both as a member of the Socialist Labour Party and as an organiser for the Industrial Workers of the World.

The IWW - or the 'Wobblies' as they were known - had originally appeared in the Western States, winning recruits amongst "unorganised, semi nomadic lumbermen and miners."  What they stood for was syndicalism, the belief that completely autonomous unions could lead the masses to socialism. Connolly did go through a syndicalist phase. Certainly syndicalist sentiments are to the fore in two of his pamphlets, 'The Axe to the Root' and 'Socialism Made Easy'. 

His time with the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) was coming to an end however.  He would in fact leave the SLP after clashing with its leader, the gifted but volatile Daniel de Leon.

Instead Connolly joined the Socialist Party of America.  It was led by Eugene Debs who would go on to win 900,000 votes as a presidential candidate in 1912.

The Socialist Party was certainly a growing force.  Between 1902 and 1912 its membership jumped from 10,000 to 118,000.  It would in due course boast a congressman, 56 mayors, 100 councilmen and 145 aldermen.  These were indeed "golden years" for socialism in the US.

From Issue 3 of An Spréach Magazine, Jan - Mar 2019