James Connolly


Our Purpose and Function


The Harp, January 1908.
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.

When the Irish Socialist Federation was first founded the action of its originators evoked a great deal of adverse criticism. We believe the launching of our journal will evoke still more. It is fitting, therefore, that we should devote some little space to explaining the central idea of this new venture in the fields of Socialist activity. We do so in no apologetic mood (our course is marked and mapped, and we shall resolutely pursue it), but in the belief that the more our purpose is understood the more will our methods be appreciated and endorsed.

The editor of this paper, the present writer, has been in the Socialist movement more years than he cares to enumerate, and in several countries as well as his own, and in each of the former he has noted with regret the adoption by Irishmen as soon as they became Socialists of a line of conduct fatal to the best interests of the Socialist cause amongst our people. To illustrate this, let us ask the reader to conjecture what should be the first result of the winning to Socialism of a worker of the Irish race. Obviously the first result should be that he should become a medium for, so to speak, translating Socialist ideas into terms of Irish thought, and a channel for conveying the Socialist message to others of his race.

But this he could only do as long as his Socialism did not cause him to raise barriers betwixt him and his fellow countrymen and women, to renounce his connection with, or to abjure all the ties of kinship and tradition that throughout the world make the heart of one Celt go out to another, no matter how unknown. Yet this is precisely what their adoption of Socialism has caused in the great majority of cases amongst Irishmen. Led away by a foolishly sentimental misinterpretation of the Socialist doctrine of Universal Brotherhood, or Internationalism, they generally began by dropping out of all Irish societies they were affiliated with, no matter how righteous their objects were, and ended by ceasing to mix in Irish gatherings or to maintain Irish connections. The result upon the minds of their fellow countrymen and women was as might be expected. At home and abroad the Irish Celt has had to keep up a perpetual watch and ward against insidious and relentless foes; for hundreds of years England has had the ear of the world, pouring into it calumnies and hatred of the Irish until the latter had become an Ishmael among the nations, and nowhere more so than in America. The bitter words of our poet –

Aye, bitter hate and cold neglect,
Or lukewarm love at best,
Is all we’ve had or can expect,
We aliens of the West.

simply chronicled truthfully the international status of our race.

Under such circumstances, and we repeat those were and are the normal conditions of our existence as Irish – under such circumstances the man or woman who broke away from and kept aloof from contact with things Irish and with an Irish environment became, in the eyes of their fellow countrymen and women, deserters from the weaker side in a fight, and therefore objects of opprobrium and of hatred. In the case of those who became Socialists this was invariably the course of events; the dislike and hatred did not precede, but followed the breaking away from Irish associations. Had the convert to Socialism showed that his conversion did not operate to make him hold aloof from his fellow countrymen, or to decry their cause, he would have become a medium for attracting the Irish, instead of repelling them, and each fresh Irish recruit to our cause would have meant an added power of convincing the Irish worker that Socialism made its devotees better equipped mentally and morally to combat oppression than any scheme evolved by the invertebrate Irish middle class politicians; but this is just what the Federation and its organ proposes to do. We propose to show all the workers of our fighting race that Socialism will make them better fighters for freedom without being less Irish; we propose to advise the Irish who are Socialists now to organize their forces as Irish and get again in touch with the organized bodies of literary, educational and revolutionary Irish; we propose to make a campaign amongst our countrymen, and to rely for our method mainly upon imparting to them a correct interpretation of the facts of Irish history, past and present; we propose to take the control of the Irish vote out of the hands of the slimy seoiníní who use it to boost their political and business interests to the undoing of the Irish as well as the American toiler; we propose to challenge all the other federations and nationalities in this country to a generous rivalry in the work of our common emancipation; and we propose, finally, to show the world that after seven hundred years battling against a mighty oppressor we are still, as a race, lusty and vigorous for the fight, and that abreast with the march of the intellect of the world we raise the ideal of the legions of our unforgotten dead, “Ireland for the Irish”, on to the plane of the higher, nobler and all comprehending “World for the workers”.

Thus all may see and learn that

Ireland has no leper sores
Her eye is clear, her stature strong,
Still thro’ her veins the life blood pours

In mighty tides of speech and song.
She watches by eternal shores
The birth of Right, the death of Wrong.


Last updated on 11.8.2003