James Connolly

Wages and other things



In response to the request of the editor for a letter from America I have here set down some of the reasons why I consider the S.L.P. of the United States the clearest and most revolutionary of the Socialist parties in the world to-day, and why, as soon as I landed in this country, I hastened to put myself in touch with that body.

In the first place, I have long been of opinion that the Socialist movement elsewhere was to a great extent hampered by the presence in its ranks of faddists and cranks, who were in the movement, not for the cause of Socialism, but because they thought they saw in it a means of ventilating their theories on such questions as sex, religion, vaccination, vegetarianism, etc., and I believed that such ideas had or ought to have no place in our programme or in our party. I held that, if under the Socialist Republic individuals desired to have a Freethinker’s propagandist, a Jewish Rabbi, a mesmerist, a Catholic priest, a Salvation captain, a professional clown, or a Protestant divine, they would be perfectly free to maintain them for any of these purposes provided that society was reimbursed for the loss of their labour. In other words, that Socialism was compatible with the greatest intellectual freedom, or even freakishness. And that, therefore, we were as a body concerned only with the question of political and economic freedom for our class. We could not claim to have a mission to emancipate the human mind from all errors, for the simple reason that we were not and are not the repositories of all truth. These simple propositions, as they appear to me, I saw to be neglected by the tendency on the part of the European Socialists as a whole to make their press and platform the stumping ground for every idea that had the distinction of being unconventional or in any manner a protest against established ideas. But in the press and platform of the Socialist Labour Party of the United States I found that this tendency was very faint indeed, and that they, in their own felicitous phrase, borrowed from. the days of backwoods tree-felling, ‘hewed close to the line’ of the class struggle, and would not allow themselves to be seduced into any more speculative theories,

Our editor, comrade Daniel DeLeon, is a case in point of this fidelity to the singleness of purpose required for our work. I give a few short extracts from his writings illustrative of his stand on these matters most frequently a snare to others. We all know how insidiously writers like Bebel, Bax and others have striven to link Socialism with hostility to the monogamic marriage system, and how sedulously the idea has been spread that Socialists are bound in principle to have a solution for the Mormon question.

When a London member of that moribund organisation, the S.D.F., Edith Lanchester, ‘took up’ with a comrade without the formality of marriage, I remember how all the English so-called Socialist papers flew to her defence, as if her act was a Socialist act. And in America, when a Mr. Herron abandoned one wife to take comfort in another, the same class of papers held the same attitude, viz., that we as Socialists held special views on the marriage question. The work of Bebel on Woman treats this matter in the same way. Now, how does Comrade DeLeon treat the matter? In The Weekly People, June 22, 1901, we find in the Letter Box this brusque and correct answer to an enquirer: ‘F.H.’ Troy, N.Y.

... is it not queering Socialism to take ... the position that justifies the notion that the sexual or matrimonial question is a cardinal Socialist question, when, in fact, Socialism has nothing to do with it.

The italics are mine, but the words as quoted are Comrade DeLeon’s own. In them he exactly voices my sentiments.

On the religious question also he is on record in the most emphatic manner. During the excitement after the assassination of President McKinley, attempts were made by several unscrupulous agencies to make capital against the Catholic Church, by claiming that Czolgosz was a Catholic, and that other anarchist assassins also had been Catholics. Of course, as a matter of fact, these men had been Freethinkers during the greater part of their lifetime, and no sort of logic could hold a Church or any other organisation responsible for the acts of men who had rejected its teaching during the greater part of their lifetime. But some people are not logical, and some such person had apparently written to DeLeon, for we find the following scathing rebuke in the Letter Box of The Weekly People of October 5, 1901:

True enough Czolgosz was born and brought up a Roman Catholic. You might go further. The last of your political assassinations in Europe – that of the Austrian Empress by Lucini, that of President Carnot of France by Santos, that of King Humbert by Brisci, and that of the Spanish Prime Minister Canovas del Castilio ... all were committed by Roman Catholics. But not for that is there any reason to impute assassination, by reason of them, to the Roman Catholic creed. Let not the immorality of false reasoning in which Archbishop Corrigan has set the pace to so many Catholic priests, inducing them to commit the immoral act of imputing Czolgosz to Socialism, take you off your base.

A healthy sentiment, and one every cool Socialist must endorse.

On the trade union question our comrade has also carefully preserved his equilibrium, neither falling down to worship, not yet denying all usefulness to the economic organisation. As you are well aware, there are quite a few superficial readers of Marx who strive to make point against trade unionism by alleging that every rise in the wages is necessarily followed by a rise in prices, neutralising the value of the rise to the workers. The shallow thinkers who fasten upon this theory do not stay to reflect that in the United States, for example, the workers only receive fifteen per cent of the total product of their labour, and that therefore the price of the other 85 per cent is a matter of indifference to them. But our gifted comrade DeLeon punctures this superficiality immediately, and refuses to be led astray by any such false reasoning. I will quote, in conclusion, from The Weekly People of January 18, 1902, a lengthy footnote by Comrade de Leon to a letter in which a party member, W. McCormick, of Fairhaven, Wash., had also demolished the fallacy.

Quotation from Daniel DeLeon.

“The theory that increased wages means increased prices,” and that therefore an increase of wages through unionism is a barren victory, inasmuch as the men would have to pay for what they buy as much more as they get, is one frequently advanced by half baked Marxists. The theory never was wholly correct; it is now substantially false. Even at a time when capitalism was not the developed thing it is to-day, there were big holes in that theory. In what way could the theory have possibly applied, for instance, in the case of raising of wages in the jewellery trade. Say that such a rise in wages had produced a corresponding rise in the price of diamond-studded ladies’ garters, would the wage slaves in that industry have had to pay so much more for such garters? They never before could buy any, and were no worse after the rise in price. This illustration is not whimsical. It brings out the point of practical importance to-day. At a time, possibly a rise in wages in certain everyday necessaries of life might have had for its effect a rise in the price of such necessaries; to-day, however, exceptional localities or critical conditions excepted – the effect of a rise in wages would not be a corresponding rise in prices; the effect would be the wiping out of the capitalist concerns whose capitalist facilities are not large enough to produce changes. The leading effect of a rise in wages is accordingly to promote capitalist concentration.

Editor, The People.

I might also add, in addition to our comrade’s testimony, that a rise in prices more frequently precedes a rise in wages than follows it. Is it not our experience that almost every demand for high wages is based upon the fact that profits and prices have already gone up?

But these are but a few of the reasons that impel me to join and cleave to the fighting S.L.P. as the clearest-cut and most scientific body of Socialists in existence.


Troy, N.Y.,
447 10th Street.

The Socialist (Edinburgh), June, 1904.


Last updated on 7.8.2003