Easter Rising hero James Connolly is a much beloved figure among the modern Irish Left, remembered fondly for his Socialist ideals.
But if he was alive today, would he have loved them back?
Though today’s Socialists see common cause with Connolly as a trade union icon, his own writings seem to indicate that he had little time for much of their platform.
@GerryAdamsSF speaks at commemoration of 99th anniversary of the execution of James Connolly pic.twitter.com/TyZi4BR48Y
— Sinn Féin (@sinnfeinireland) May 12, 2015
James Connolly in 1915:
"The medical authorities issue minute and detailed instructions to the people as to how the illness may be avoided..
But what use is it to teach people about the evil of overcrowding when their wages will not permit them a decent house?"#jamesconnolly pic.twitter.com/WAKACN3eg2
— People Before Profit (@pb4p) May 12, 2020
For example, take a 1904 letter published in the Edinburgh publication The Socialist, in which Connolly denounces those who try to mix Socialism with other issues, such as sex, religion, vaccination and vegetarianism.
He called such individuals “cranks” and “faddists” (meaning people who simply chase fads and what’s trendy), and said that they “hampered” Socialism as a whole. He later added that these ideas should have “no place” within the movement.
In his own words:
“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.”
Issue by issue, this clearly describes modern Leftwing parties in Ireland.
For example, by “sex,” he explained that questions of polygamy, marriage, divorce, and more could not have less to do with Socialism, saying that some people were “insidiously” trying “to link Socialism with hostility to the monogamic marriage” (meaning monogamous marriage).
He then quoted “Comrade” Daniel DeLeon, who said that it was “queering Socialism” to say that “sexual or matrimonial” issues were Socialist questions, “when in fact Socialism has nothing to do with it.”
“The words as quoted are Comrade DeLeon’s own – in them he exactly voices my sentiments,” said Connolly.
And yet, the modern Left seems obsessed with these issues, pursuing all manner of policies relating to LGBTQI+ sexual and gender issues today.
The Foyle Pride parade gets underway through Derry City. #Bród18 🏳️🌈 pic.twitter.com/ko6yYp4nJE
— Sinn Féin (@sinnfeinireland) August 25, 2018
They even try to conflate these causes with their Socialist ideals, trotting out slogans like “Queer Liberation, not Rainbow Capitalism” and “Low Pay is an LGBTQ+ issue.”
On Saturday we march for liberation, not rainbow capitalism.
While the establishment and corporations drape themselves in rainbow colours, they have no interest in alleviating the oppression & bigotry faced by LGBTQ+ people.
Pride is still a protest because it has to be🏳️🌈🏳️⚧️ pic.twitter.com/Kna8Q5wsA3
— Cllr Fiona Ferguson (@fiona_ferg) July 28, 2022
Would Connolly have supported any of this? If his own words are anything to go by, it doesn’t seem likely.
But what of religion? Connolly says that “faddists and cranks” were attempting to mix beliefs about religion and Socialism. But what did he mean by this exactly?
Well, he explained in an article in the Socialist publication The People in April 1904, saying that “socialism is a political and economic question and has nothing to do with religion.” He also expressed concern that Socialists in his own time were “straying from the correct path” on this issue by becoming “anti-religious.”
Let’s let Connolly himself explain:
“The attitude of the party toward religion is another one on which I believe there is a tendency at present to stray from the correct path.
Theoretically every S.L.P. man agrees that Socialism is a political and economic question and has nothing to do with religion. But how many adhere to that position? Very few, indeed. It is scarcely possible to take up a copy of The Weekly People of late without realising from its contents that it and the party are becoming distinctly anti-religious.
If a clergyman anywhere attacks Socialism, the tendency is to hit back not at his economic absurdities, but at his theology, with which-we have nothing to do.”
He also criticised Belgian Socialist Emile Vandervelde, who Connolly said was a poor tactician, but garnered support simply by bashing the Catholic Church:
“Mr. Vandervelde is a middle class doctrinaire, who, on every question of tactics, has proven himself unsafe as a guide…but, lo! he speaks against the Catholic Church, and presto, he is become an oracle. But I refuse to worship at this Delphic shrine, and I laugh at the words of the oracle.”
One wonders what Connolly would make, then, of modern Socialist parties, who protested outside a Ballyfermot Catholic Church in June of 2021 for taking down a Gay Pride rainbow flag from its grounds.
Why is Dublin SF picketing Catholic churches?
Do you know how ridiculous this looks?
— Ciarán (@CiaranB19) June 23, 2021
What a turn out today in #Ballyfermot for our #pride rally.@pb4p @bridsmithTD pic.twitter.com/Hc4FrLaKHe
— Cllr Hazel De Nortúin (@HazelPBP) June 25, 2021
“We don’t care what your catechism says – fly this LGBT flag or else.” That is effectively the message. These parties routinely bash the Catholic Church for its “dogmatic” views on social issues, and put pressure on the Church to adapt its theology to conform to their own beliefs. That doesn’t really sound like something Connolly would get behind, does it?
Especially, one might add, considering the fact that Connolly received absolution from a priest before his execution and died a Catholic himself.
Lost memoir tells how James Connolly returned to his faith before execution http://t.co/yfu7D7n2aC
— Independent.ie (@Independent_ie) May 26, 2013
He also mentioned vaccination, and “vegetarianism,” which have implications for the Left’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the eco-socialist climate movement as well.
The whole letter reads like it was sent through a time machine as a critique of the modern Socialist factions in Ireland.
It’s impossible to know how Connolly would vote if he was alive today. But if these quotes are anything to go by, I can’t see him fitting in at many of the modern Left’s events. “Woke” he was certainly not.