James Connolly


Difficulties of Socialism


Workers’ Republic, 3 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.

In every discussion on the aims and objects of a Socialist Party some one is sure to bring up the objection that even if the Socialist Party were to conquer their opponents, and make an effort to establish their ideal as a political and social edifice, the difficulties which would arise out of the inability of the common people to understand the complexity of the social system they were called upon to administer, would infallibly produce the downfall of the new order. This objection is, it seems to us, rather far fetched in view of the circumstance that the majority of those who at the present day are entrusted with the work of organizing and administering the capitalist system are completely ignorant of every development of the system outside of their own particular sphere of employment.

It is not at all necessary that everyone, or even a very large number, of those engaged in labour should be able to give an intelligent account of the multifarious processes of production, nor yet that they should be qualified even to trace the passage of the commodities upon which they are employed through all their stages from the crudity of the raw material up to the perfection of the finished product as it eventually reaches the hands of the purchaser. It is only necessary that each worker should perform with due skill and scrupulosity his own allotted task; to the few required as organisers of industry may be left the work of adjusting and interlocking the parts. Even this latter function – formidable as it may look when thus baldly stated – may be reduced to a mere automatic function to be executed as a part of the routine work of a clerical staff.

Any person reflecting upon the mechanism of the capitalist system can readily perceive how little its most important arteries of commerce are dependent upon international organization, and how much upon the reciprocal action of the economic interests involved at first hand. Where the international organization of Socialism will indeed come into play it will come to smooth over and simplify many of the difficulties which are constantly arising under capitalism as a result of the clashing of personal interests. Hence the Socialist organization of industry will preserve the effectiveness due to the development of capitalism whilst entirely obviating the friction and disputes capitalist competition entails.

It is well also to remember the multitude of things which in civilised society we are all compelled to take upon trust at the word of others. It is safe to say that what is called ‘progress’, or civilisation, would be impossible were each individual in the community, or even a majority, to insist upon acquiring a complete theoretical and technical mastery of, say, each new application of Science to the needs of life before consenting to allow its use. There are few persons nowadays who would shrink from trusting themselves to railway trains, even although in all but complete ignorance of the mechanism of the steam engine, signal-boxes, points, and brakes; we have had gas in our houses, shops, and public buildings for several generations, but to this day the number of those who really understand the processes of gas production, storage, and distribution are extraordinarily few, yet that does not prevent us using it despite its well known poisonous and explosive nature. And so we might go on enumerating many things in daily use – the use of which involves risk to life – which are accepted and freely utilised by people at large without stopping to acquire a perfect knowledge of their active principle.

Much the same might be said of the pretended wonderful and mysterious results to be attained under Socialism – results too wonderful to be realised. In Socialism there is nothing so abnormal that its realization could exceed in strangeness things we see around us every day, and composedly accept with the greatest equanimity. In the proposition that the community can so arrange the work of production and distribution that plenty can be provided for every human being, there is nothing, in view of present day machinery, half so extraordinary as the fact that if a gentleman sitting down to dinner in Dublin sends a telegram to a friend in Australia that friend will have received said telegram before his Dublin correspondent could have finished the final course of his repast. The fact that people in Ireland were reading accounts of battles in South Africa, 7,000 miles off, while those battles were still in progress, is far more intrinsically wonderful than a system of society in which labour enjoys the product of its toil, and neither hereditary tyrants nor capitalist exploiters are tolerated.

If these stranger developments have been accepted whilst Socialism is still rejected, it is because the personal economic interests of the classes controlling the educative and governing forces of the world are in line with such developments, while the same personal economic interests of those classes are as directly opposed to Socialism. But the workers are in the majority, and their interests are in line with Socialism, which may, therefore, be realised as soon as they desire, and are resolute enough to put their desires into practice.


Last updated on 11.8.2003