James Connolly


Home Thrusts


Workers’ Republic, 15 September 1900.
Recently republished in Red Banner, No.3 (PO Box 6587, Dublin 6).
Transcription: Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh.
HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

A Critic

Cork’s own city has provided itself with a critic who, in the Evening Special of last Saturday, runs full tilt up against the President of the British Trades’ Union Congress, and against Socialism in general.

The Cork critic is a curiosity in his own way. He is in the first place a born journalist; you can see that with the first glance at his writings. The first qualification of a journalist on a capitalist paper is a perfect readiness to write columns of matter upon any subject which may turn up, without wasting any time acquiring a knowledge of what he is writing about.

So with this Cork critic. Every line he writes gives evidence of the density of his ignorance on all matters Socialistic, but he apparently conceives that fact to be of trivial importance for he continues to spread himself out on the question with a recklessness of grammar and an ignorance of economic teaching not to be surpassed by any collection of old women in the land.

As to the grammar, will the reader cast his eye over this gem from the editorial in which this critic lets himself loose upon an unoffending community.

Speaking of the President of the Congress he writes: “He does not look at Labour and Economic questions from no mere sordid bread and butter point of view.”

If the schoolmaster was indeed abroad when this journalistic critic was developing I would suggest that for the sake of that schoolmaster’s reputation this Cork critic should never tell what school he had attended.

Further on in this interesting article he declares that the President “soars aloft into the regions of Philosophy, and lectures the world on the prehistoric state of man and other wild animals.”

The confusion of thought shown in the paragraph, the entire inability to discriminate between a reference to the accepted facts of biological and ethnographic science and the mere speculations of philosophy is proof enough that the writer’s sole acquaintance with these subjects was limited to the names he juggled with so deftly, and used so wrongly.

But it is when he essays to argue out his position that this poor scribe becomes really touching in his simplicity. Here, for instance, is a specimen of his reasoning, and a sample of his knowledge, which should not be lightly passed over but should rather be preserved and carefully framed as a literary curiosity, born of an intellectual freak.

Pickle’s Philosophy of Collectivism [1] put into a nutshell amounts to this: Everybody is to own everything, and nobody is to own anything. A nice comfortable philosophy for a considerable section of the world. Take for instance the man without any brains. What need he care if he has none? His neighbour has enough for the two, and as he would have the same right to an even share of the country’s wealth as his brainy neighbour he would be the better off of the two, because he would have everything without worry or exertion.

There now, that is a gem. You will observe that the idea it means to convey is that Socialism means an equal divide of the wealth of the world – an idea which nobody holds now outside of lunatic asylums or the editorial rooms of capitalist newspapers.

Nobody ever heard a Socialist advocate a divide up, and when you hear any person tell you that Socialism means dividing up depend upon it he is either a fool who does not know what he is talking about, or else a rogue who means to deceive you.

Socialists say the land and all things necessary to life should be made public property and the journalistic tout for the capitalist class shouts out that that means an “equal divide”.

Now just to emphasise the foolishness of such talk remember that “all things necessary to life” includes the rivers and canals. Do you suppose then that Socialists propose to divide up the Lee, the Blackwater, or the Liffey, and apportion to each inhabitant of Ireland a share which he can carry away in his pockets?

We do not propose to divide anything but the labour and that we hope to divide if not equally, at least equitably. When that division comes off I think that an enlightened community will find for this Cork scribe some function more suited to his intellect, or to his lack of it, than writing articles upon subjects he does not understand.

“Take for instance”, he says, “the man without any brains.” Certainly my friend, anything to oblige you, I will take your case – your case in every sense of the word. And really it is touching to observe how the poor uninstructed instinct of this scribe brought him at once to the point which affected him most – the man without any brains.

Under Socialism those who labour will receive the full reward of their labour, no part whatever being deducted for the upkeep of a master class. The only deduction permissible being that proportion of the product necessary for the renewal of raw material and appliances.

The man who has brains will be expected to do his best, and the man who has no brains (a curious kind of animal he would be) will be expected to do his best, and both would be rewarded according to the length of time they spent per day, week, or year, in the service of the community.

Possibly the man with brains would not receive more per hour than the man not possessed of brains; he would however have that incentive to exert his intellect which would come from the knowledge that he would be honoured and respected by his fellows in proportion to the worth of his labours.

The respect and honour of our fellows is payment enough for full grown men after our material wants are satisfied, and only perverted intellects and debased natures conceive a useless superfluity of wealth or powers of mastership to be necessary as an incentive to human ambition.

A truly civilised society would no more think of rewarding a man because nature had endowed him with brains, than it would think of rewarding another man because nature had endowed him with good looks.

Yes, my Cork friend, the man without the brains will be looked after. Be under no apprehension.

Then our friend asks again: – Is the man who spends most of his share in public houses and lets his family suffer, to be entitled to an equal share of the spoil just like the industrious man who spends his money to good account.

The question thus put implies that the questioner would answer in the negative. The question has little bearing on Socialism, as Socialism only proposes to secure a man the reward of his labour and does not presume to dictate how he shall use that reward.

But observe the folly of the question and the implied answer. A man is presupposed to have a certain share of wealth, to drink that share and leave his family to suffer. As a remedy it is proposed to decrease his share as a punishment for his drinking. But by decreasing his share you shorten the period required to exhaust his funds, and therefore bring to want so much sooner the family about which you professed to be so solicitous. Which is as absurd as the remainder of your attempts at reasoning.

It is like the case of the henpecked husband who had his wife charged at the Police Court with assaulting him. The lady was fined, the husband had to pay the fine, and he spent the rest of the week trying to figure out where his satisfaction came in.

The question belongs to the regime of capitalist society and not at all to Socialism, under which the family would not be dependent at least for necessaries upon the dissolute husband, but the fact of the question being put is here mentioned as showing the habit some people have of thinking the conditions of the present into the future, instead of honestly attempting to master the problem they pretend to discuss.

The greatest minds of our time both in Science and Philosophy have given in their adhesion to Socialism; their works on the subject are accessible to all in most of our free libraries; the fact that such libraries are free does not surely lessen the educational value of the books contained therein; what then can be thought of the scribe who sneers at “Free Library Philosophy” and “Free Library Gleanings”?

What can be thought, except that this sneer is the only honest thing in his writings, betraying as it does the hatred with which his class view every facility for popular education, everything which would equip the worker for the task of measuring his intellect with the much vaunted brains of his masters.

That sneer and that hatred reveal who has most to fear from such a contest.




1. Pickle was the British TUC president under the critic’s gaze.


Last updated on 11.8.2003