As a general rule we refrain from taking notice in our columns of the quarrels or discussions of the Socialist parties of the world. We regard ourselves as being, at present, primarily a missionary organ, founded for the purpose of presenting to the working class of Ireland a truer and more scientific understanding of the principles of Socialism than they could derive from a perusal of the scant and misleading references to that subject to be found in the ordinary capitalist press. This task also involves, as a matter of course, the criticism and exposure of all the quack remedies and political trickeries with which our masters, or their ignorant imitators in the ranks of the workers themselves, seek to impose upon the people as cure-alls for our social evils. We have all along acted upon the conviction that we must give the revolutionary principles of Socialism an Irish home and habitation before we venture to express our opinions on the minor matters dividing the party abroad. We can say now with some degree of confidence that we have succeeded in that task and that the Socialist Republican Party of Ireland is one of the factors which will play a big part in shaping the future history of this country, and being so confident we now propose to say a word upon a subject at present under discussion in the United States of America; and in which the name of our Party has been cited as following a course of action similar to that adopted by one of the disputants.
The matter is as follows:- There are in the States just now two distinct Socialist parties - The Socialist Labor Party, and the Social Democratic Party. The first named is the longest established of the two and has repeatedly run candidates for the post of President of the United States, polling on the occasion of the last Presidential contest 36,664 votes. The last named has only come into existence since the last Presidential campaign, and is composed for the greater part of men and women who, while avowing themselves Socialists, disapproved of the policy and tactics pursued by the Socialist Labor Party. To the uninitiated in the economics and philosophy of Socialism it is hard to explain the exact point at issue, but it may be briefly summed up in the statement that the Socialist Labor Party adhere uncompromisingly to the policy of identifying themselves as a party with, and basing all their hopes upon, the struggle of the working class against every section of their exploiters, or employers. This involves opposition to every demand made in the interest of the master class, and an attitude of complacency, or even triumph, at the success of the great capitalist in crushing out his smaller competitor - this complacency arising from the, it seems to us, absolutely correct position that the crushing out of small capitalists by large ones will tend to increase the ranks of the working class, concentrate industry under centralised management, decrease the numbers of those interested in private property, and so make the ultimate attainment of Socialism easier.
In other words, theirs is the position known in Europe as the Marxist position, from its being first definitely formulated by the founder of Modern Socialism - Karl Marx.
The Social Democratic Party, on the other hand, look to the fact that the small middle class, and especially the farmers, still wield an enormous voting power, and, looking to the present rather than to the future, they have embodied in their programme certain "Farmers' Demands" - proposals for legislation to enable the petty farmers to bear up against the competition of those mammoth farms for which the United States is so famous. The object being, of course, to win the votes of the farmers as a class.
Over those "Farmers' Demands" a battle royal has been raging for some time between the two parties. The Socialist Labor Party denouncing them as reactionary and unscientific, the Social Democratic Party defending them as practical and useful. Lately some members of the latter party have themselves taken up the battle against those proposals being included in their programme, and demand their removal. In the course of this latter discussion in the columns of the Social DemocraticHerald published at Chicago, Sept 25th, one writer, F.G.R. Gordon, in defending the proposals, cites our example as a party which, occupying an absolutely scientific position on Socialist doctrines, yet has its "Farmers' Demands". Here is the quotation:-
The Irish Socialist Republican Party have their Farmers' Demands; and their party has been endorsed as the par excellent Scientific Socialist Party.No.3 of our programme is, we presume, the plank alluded to.
Now, we have no wish to be misunderstood by our comrades in America; we value our reputation as a straight Socialist Party too much to allow our name to be used as a cover for any kind of looseness in principles, tactics, or policy, even when it is used accompanied by flattery. Therefore, we would wish to point out to all whom it may concern that the cases of America and Ireland are not at all analogous. Agriculture in America has assumed already its company form, being in many cases administered purely on capitalist lines for the profit of non-resident owners; agriculture in Ireland is still in a semi-feudal form, the largest farm in Ireland would be classed as a petty farm in America, and the absorption of the working farmer by the capitalist managed estate of the non-resident farmer is practically unknown. Now observe this vital point of difference between the programme of the Socialist Republican Party of Ireland, and the programme of the Social Democratic Party of America. Both have demands for farmers, granted, but:-
1. The Farmers' Demands of the Social Democrats of America are demands which aim at the perpetuation of the system of petty farming by legislation to protect it from the effects of the competition of farms managed on those lines most nearly approximating to the Socialist form of industry, viz, the lines of centralised capital, and agricultural armies. American agriculture, as such, is not in any danger as a source of support for the agriculturist. His status may be endangered, not his existence.
In other words the American Farmers' Demands are in the interest of one particular form of agricultural enterprise, as against another; the Irish Demands are directed towards rescuing agriculture itself, and teaching the agriculturist to look to national co-operation as the factor he should count upon for help in his struggle to remain in the country of his birth.
Things which look alike are not always alike. The apparent identity of the Irish and American proposals is seen to be non-existent when you take into account the different historical and industrial conditions of the two countries. Given American conditions in Ireland, the Irish Socialists would wipe their Farmers' Demands from off their programme, but in Ireland as it is with the rags of a medieval system of land tenure still choking our life and cramping our industry, with perennial famine destroying our people, with our population dwindling away by emigrations, we consider it right to point out, even if unheeded, that it is the duty of the State to undertake the functions of manufacture and custodian of all implements required for the one important industry of the country - agriculture. This is all we demand in that nature:-
Establishment at public expense of rural depots for the most improved agricultural machinery, to be lent out to the agricultural population at a rent covering cost and management alone.
It is not a sectional demand, but is the outcome of a national exigency.
"The practical application of the principles" (of Socialism), said Marx and Engels in their joint preface to the Communist Manifesto, "everywhere, and at all times will depend on the historical conditions for the time being existing."
Let our critics please remember that fact, and the Socialist Republicans of Ireland can confidently abide by the result.
Republished in James Connolly: Lost Writings, (ed. Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh), Pluto Press 1997.