James Connolly


An Object Lesson

(15 December 1900)

From The Workers’ Republic, 15 December 1900.
Republished in Red Banner, No.21.
Transcribed by Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

On Wednesday November 28, there appeared in the Dublin newspapers an advertisement announcing the issue of shares in a new electrical syndicate, the “British Electrical Street Tramways, Limited”. We do not suppose our readers are interested in that fact as probable subscribers for the shares of this company, but we nevertheless venture to draw their attention to the circumstance, because the advertisement in question was in itself an eloquent tribute to the validity of many of the points raised by Socialists in their criticism of the capitalist system. The Syndicate is formed, the advertisement tells us, “to construct and work lines of electric railways and tramways licensed by special Acts of Parliament, or by Municipal or other authorities, and to extend the service of traction vehicles in large towns”.

Here we have a proposal by a number of rich men to engage in the business of constructing and working electric trams, etc, in any town of Great Britain and Ireland where they can procure permission to do so, and coupled with the proposal is an estimate of the large profits to be acquired by such a proceeding – to be acquired by whoever purchases shares in this company, even though the person so purchasing may be entirely ignorant of all that pertains to electric traction, or unable to visit any of the towns where the profits are to be earned. Tender-hearted humanitarians and benevolent persons generally, aghast at the miseries of the workers but loth to relinquish their belief in the institution of private property, are never tired of proclaiming that the cure-all for those miseries is to be found in the cultivation of feelings of friendship between capitalists and their workers. They affirm that strikes, lock-outs, and industrial disputes of all kinds would be rendered impossible if the employers and employed were only to meet and know each other better.

To this contention Socialists have always replied that the development of modern industry renders impossible any such rapprochement between the classes; that the employer is no longer a person but a thing – a company; that, the shares of said company being saleable on the market, the personality of the shareholder is of a fleeting character, and that consequently the possibility of human, personal, intercourse between master and man is fast being destroyed by the inevitable tendency of industry to fall into the hands of companies, and of companies to form combinations or trusts. The man who holds shares in companies situated a hundred or a thousand miles distant from his home cannot have a personal regard for the employees who earn his dividends, and the employees cannot be expected to remember in their prayers shareholders whose very names are unknown to them. The fact of this company offering its shares promiscuously to all who choose to buy, and proposing to exploit the needs of towns wherever possible, proves this Socialist contention to be absolutely correct. How can anyone believe that the monied people rushing to buy these shares could be brought to regard as men and brothers the unfortunate workmen whose labours they hope to profit by?

One other and more important point is brought out by this advertisement, viz., that the private capitalist is no longer necessary. Apologists for capitalism claim that the profits of the capitalist are the reward of his brains and skill in organising; that without the brains and organising genius of the capitalist industry would be impossible. But here we observe in this case, as in the case of all capitalist companies, that the profits are to be reaped by people who bring neither brains, skill, nor even technical knowledge to the work – who bring nothing but cash to purchase the brains and muscle of other men.

All the organising and managerial functions of the company will be performed by experts hired for the purpose. These experts need have no interest in the company other than their salaries. It is obvious, then, that when private capitalist companies can hire servants to perform the brain work necessary for their schemes, the same class of persons could be hired, if need be, by the public bodies, state or municipal, to perform the same functions in the service of, and for the interest of, the entire community.

By the hiring of salaried managers the capitalist class abandon all right to use the plea that the community could not progress without their aid; since personal supervision and direction by the capitalist himself is not required, the public bodies who represent the community can safely undertake the ownership and control of all the work of production and distribution; and solve the problem of organising skill and genius by the same method as that employed by the capitalist class today, viz., by hiring technical experts to organise and direct.

Thus the first step in the Socialist organisation of industry is illustrated by the last step in capitalist organisation. The capitalist having voluntarily abdicated his personal supervision, in his own interest, must now abdicate his personal ownership, in the general interest.


Last updated on 14.7.2005