James Connolly


Without Principle


Workers’ Republic, 9 October 1915.
Recently republished in Red Banner, No.8 (PO Box 6587, Dublin 6).
Transcription: Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh.
HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The recently concluded election in the Harbour Division of the city of Dublin was an illuminating proof of how low politics fall in Ireland when the galvanising force of an opposition based upon a great principle is withdrawn. [1] There are people in this country who sincerely deprecate anything in politics that seems to break what is called national unity, as there are ten times as many who repeat the parrot cry of ‘faction’ and ‘factionism’ because they will not use the brains with which they are endowed, but are content to be the mouthpieces of every dominant faction that imposes itself upon the nation.

But the sincere patriot who looks beyond the dust of conflict, and refuses to regard politics as an area in which the uniformity of old-time military drill is essential or even desirable, will realise that what is called ‘faction’ is often the vitally necessary stirring of intellectual life without which parties are corrupted and nations die.

It may seem paradoxical to say it, but it is absolutely true that the healthiest nation, the nation most potent in its influence upon the well-being of the world, is ever that which has the most factions in its intellectual life, whose sons and daughters the most readily contend for principles they hold dear. Ireland is a shining example. Had any of the parties which have hitherto spoken in the name of Ireland been in reality the custodian of all the hopes and ideals of Ireland, it is certain that centuries ago the identity of Ireland as a nation would have disappeared. The destruction or corruption of the party would have meant the final conquest of Ireland.

But as it was, Ireland was a land of factions, of contending parties, of diverse ideals. No sooner had the foreign enemy destroyed one party, and joyfully declared that Ireland was done for, than he discovered that another party with another method of fighting, and pursuing a somewhat different ideal, had sprung up in its place, and all his work was to be done over again.

All Irish parties fought for freedom, all did not agree in their ideas of what constituted freedom. All Irish parties loved Ireland, all could not unite in formulating a political policy which embodied their love for Ireland. Indeed, the greatest political parties were those which most resolutely avoided all attempts at definitions.

There is a unity in diversity, an underlying identity in things apparently conflicting, but this great truth is unknown to the shallow-minded windbags and petty wirepullers who to-day pose as Irish leaders. They can only recognise submission and obedience, which for their own purposes they rechristen as unity and discipline. A new principle, a new idea merely represents to them a force they cannot control. The greater it is the more they fear it.

In the Harbour Division we had seeking the support of the electors three candidates between whom there scarcely existed any differences except in the degree of their objectionableness to decent minded men. We refrained from condemning any one of these men in the fear that we might help in returning any of the others. Half of the electors of the Division shared our views on the matter, and refused to go to the poll, and bereft of the vitalising effect of a contest for principles the election became one of the most pitiful travesties ever seen in Ireland.

Each candidate endorsed the war, but strove to represent to the electors that he was not as recreant to Ireland as his opponents. Each candidate held to a policy which makes loyal addresses and the flunkeyism of Irish slaves a matter of routine hereafter, but two of them protested that they could not tolerate the man who did in the past what they were prepared to do in the future.

No principle was at stake. It was not a contest for principle, it was a contest for a job at £400 per year.

No principle will hereafter be at stake in an Irish election until Labour chooses to enter in the arena to purify the political atmosphere by the introduction of a higher principle.



1. The election, on 1 October, was won by Alderman Alfie Byrne, but all three candidates had pledged to join the Home Rule party in parliament if elected.


Last updated on 14.8.2003