Remembering Keir Hardie

Keir Hardie was born on this day in 1856. Here, James Connolly remembers his legacy as a worker who showed his class the road to emancipation.

By the death of Comrade James Keir Hardie labour has lost one of its most fearless and incorruptible champions, and the world one of its highest minded and purest souls.

It is not easy for us who knew him long and personally to convey to the reader how much of a loss his taking away is to the labour movement. We feel it with the keenness of a personal loss.

James Keir Hardie was to the labour movement a prophetic anticipation of its own possibilities. He was a worker, with all the limitations from which no worker ever completely escapes, and with potentialities and achievements such as few workers aspire after, but of which each worker may be the embodiment.

James Keir Hardie himself was ever too modest to say, but we who were his comrades often thought, that he was a living proof of the truth of the idea that labour could furnish in its own ranks all that was needed to achieve its own emancipation, the proof that labour needed no heaven-sent saviour from the ranks of other classes. He had been denied the ordinary chances of education, he was sent to earn his living at the age of seven, he had to educate himself in the few hours he could snatch from work and sleep, he was blacklisted by the employers as soon as he gave vent to the voice of labour in his district, he had to face unemployment and starvation in his early manhood and when he began to champion politically the rights of his class he found every prostitute journalist in these islands throwing mud at his character, and defaming his associates.

Yet he rose through it all, and above it all, never faltered in the fight, never failed to stand up for truth and justice as he saw it, and as the world will yet see it.

When the vultures of capital descended upon Dublin, resolved to make Dublin the grave of the new unionism, James Keir Hardie was one of the first to take his stand in the gap of danger by our sides. And when many of our friends weakened or were led astray, in the midst of the clamour of reviling tongues, and rising above it, we could always catch the encouraging accents of James Keir Hardie bidding the Dublin fighters to stand fast.

And when the latest great iniquity was being rushed upon the world, and the contending hosts of Europe were being marshalled by their masters for the work of murder, James Keir Hardie stood resolutely for peace and brotherhood among the nations – refusing to sanction the claim of the capitalist class of any nation to be the voice of the best interests of that nation.

May the earth rest lightly over his bosom.

This article appeared in the  Workers’ Republic  in October, 1915.

About the Author

James Connolly was an Irish republican and socialist. He was a member of the Scottish Socialist Federation and Social Democratic Federation, and a founder of the Irish Socialist Republican Party and the Socialist Labour Party. He was also active in the International Workers of the World (IWW) while in America and co-founded the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union (ITGWU), with whom he led the Dublin Lockout of 1913. He fought in the 1916 Rising in Dublin with the workers' militia, the Irish Citizen Army, and was executed for his role.