James Connolly


Difficulties of Capitalism

(16 June 1900)

Workers’ Republic, 16 June 1900.
Republished in James Connolly: Lost Writings, (ed. Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh), Pluto Press 1997.
The notes, which are © 1997 Pluto Press, have not been included.
HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

We wrote last week of the Difficulties of Socialism; this week we propose to treat of a few of the Difficulties of Capitalism. In this connection we would point out that the critics of Socialism invariably devote their energies to demonstrating how far a Socialist system would fall short of ideal perfection, and, having so demonstrated to their own satisfaction, they affect to conclude that the last word has been said, and argument is at an end. It may perhaps surprise such critics to learn that such a line of argument leaves untouched the real contention of the Socialist Party which nowhere proposes that Socialism will escape the taint of fallibility due to all institutions of human origin, but only that the establishment of our social arrangements on a Socialist basis will ensure material prosperity to all men and women, and by so ensuring leave the race full freedom to seek for such expression of its faculties as is best suited to their varying characters. It does not assume that with the advent of Socialism all the evil of our nature will immediately disappear, that love, hate, ambition, lust, envy and all the forces which in our complex natures make for the stirring up of strife and discord, will be instantly eradicated, and the earth take on the aspect of Paradise. But it does contend that Poverty and the crimes born of poverty may be banished, and that with the elimination of the economic struggle from our life the intellectual forces which to-day expend themselves in striving for mastery will find expression in avenues of greater helpfulness, and individuals seek renown as benefactors instead of exploiters of their species.

Our sapient critics likewise forget that the line of argument which consists solely in discovering possible flaws in a future state of society is permissible only to those who defend a state of society in itself flawless. Such capitalist society obviously is not. Its glaring contradictions are so many and so apparent that many of its most zealous defenders rely for their success in maintaining its integrity intact upon their skill in impressing the ignorant multitude with the belief that reform is hopeless, and, therefore, politics a mere waste of time. The space at our disposal would not permit of the mention of a tithe of the problems and difficulties, the contradictions and absurdities, which abound in the very nature of capitalism, but a brief enumeration of a few of these may be of use in serving to convince the less obtuse of our critics that they are playing with a two edged sword when they speak of the difficulties Socialism may have before it.

Why is it necessary that human beings should work at all? In order that the world may be supplied with goods, of course. Do we therefore rejoice when the world is so supplied? Oh, no, that is the greatest disaster we can imagine, for then we would be thrown idle, owing to over-production. We must labour in order to supply the world, and when the world is supplied we must starve because there is plenty for all and our labour is not needed.

Science and invention by increasing the productivity of our labour lessens the period necessary to stock the world’s markets, and thus, at one and the same time, lessens the period during which our labour is required and increases the duration of our compulsory idleness.

One difficulty – one insoluble difficulty – of capitalism is to devise a method whereby the march of science and inventive genius can assist industry without menacing the bread and butter of the working class.

Property of all kinds making for human comfort commands the respect of all men. Yet there are times when the unemployed building trades need not repine if a conflagration lays a street in ruins, or an earthquake wrecks some noble building; and we have known shipwrights to rejoice when some stately ship foundered in mid-ocean.

The world rejoices at the progress of medical science, yet the same healing art which withholds its victims from the grave robs the cemetery companies of their expected dividends, and the funeral undertakers of chances of earning a livelihood. Under capitalism matters of public calamity – war, pestilence, death – are often matters of private thanksgiving; the crepe on the widow’s bonnet finds its counterpoise in the breakfast on the grave-digger’s table.

When capitalism has made the private interest coincide with the common weal; when machinery becomes in reality ‘labour-saving’, and not as at present, wage-saving; when an overstocked market means for the worker a well stocked larder, and not idleness and hunger, then it will be time for our enemies to tell us of our future difficulties.

But under Capitalism that time will never come.


Last updated on 23 July 2018