James Connolly


The New Evangel


Socialism And Political Reformers

Workers’ Republic, 8 July 1899

Among the many developments of Socialist activity at which the man in the street is apt to be astonished, perhaps none are more difficult to comprehend at first sight than the implacable hostility shown by the Socialist parties of the world towards the political parties hitherto identified with the agitation for political reform. The uninitiated find it hard to understand why there should be such marked hostility between parties, both of whom place on their programme planks of political reform seemingly almost identical in character; why the Socialist party, which represents the most revolutionary ideas of our day, should seek the downfall of political reform parties with a zest and eagerness which the most bigoted Conservative could never hope to excel. It is observed that wherever the Socialist party is strong, as in Germany, France, or Belgium, it is the Liberal party – the party of mere political reformers – which has been the first to suffer in loss of prestige and membership in exact proportion as Socialism has advanced.

Strange, though the circumstance may seem to the unreflective mind, it is but what might have been expected to result from the appearance upon the political field of a force which like the Socialist party had at once a programme of political reform embracing all and more than the old reform parties had striven for, and a programme embodying demands for economic changes which receive no support from middle-class reformers, though a crying necessity of the times. The development of acute economic problems, side by side with the extension of the franchise – economic problems are, in fact, most acute in the politically freest countries – has borne in upon the minds of the working-class voters the conviction that, except as a means to an end, political freedom is a valueless acquisition for their class. They therefore demand the right to use that political power in the direction of their own class interests, but on making such demand are surprised to see their quondam middle-class leaders the first to denounce them and call upon the State to oppose them. When this point has been reached, as in the countries above named and to a lesser degree in England and America, the thoughtful observer of politics cannot but see that middle-class parties of reform have outlived their usefulness; that whatever political change is still required to establish the democracy in power can be sought for as well under the banner of the new political force of Socialism as under the old banner of Liberalism, and that this new power by basing its agitation upon the material wants of the producing class gathers to its aid a potential power, in the passion and self-interest of the majority of the nation, which the mere doctrinaires – Liberal, Radical, or Republican – could never hope to rally. Therefore political reform parties decay as the Socialist Parties thrive; the latter early the political demands of the former on their banner side by side with the economic demands of their class, and thus deprived of their sole reason for existence the capitalist reform parties lose their attraction for the multitude – now pressing eagerly onward to the inspiration of a new and better hope.

On the other hand Conservatism is, as a party, secure of an existence as long as the present system lasts. It may be set down as an axiom that there will always be a Conservative party as long as there is tyranny and privilege to conserve. Hence we find the old reform parties shedding their members at both ends – the wealthier section falling over into the ranks of Conservatism, in order to strengthen the only party able to defend their monopolies, and the working class section joining hands with the Socialists as the only party embracing the cause alike of political and industrial liberty. The Socialists are naturally desirous of hastening this process, in order that the political battlefield may be left clear and open for the final struggle between the only two parties possessed of a logical reason for existence – the Conservative party defending the strongholds of monarchy, aristocracy and capitalism; and the Socialist party storming those strongholds in the interest of human freedom. This consummation cannot be realised as long as there exists a political party which, like the Liberals of England and the Continent, and the Home Rule parties of Ireland, attempts to blend the principles of progress and reaction – now blatantly declaring for political freedom, now vigorously defending economic slavery. Therefore the Socialists uniformly seek the discomfiture of Liberalism, regarding it as a buffer between the contending forces of tyranny and freedom; and hence the clear-sighted workmen of the Continent have already reduced that once formidable party to a mere cypher in politics, and win ore long completely wipe it out of existence.

The fact is not without its lesson to us here in Ireland. We too have so-called parties of reform – Home Rule in all its phases is now but a cloak for the designs of the middle class desirous of making terms with the Imperial Government it pretends to dislike. It is but capitalist Liberalism, speaking with an Irish accent. As such it is the enemy of every effort at working-class emancipation, and if the workers of Ireland as are alive to the interests of their class as are their brethren on the Continent, they will help build up that Socialist Party which is destined to march over the grave of Home Rule Liberalism to the final assault and destruction of the strongholds of oppression.


Last updated on 29.7.2007