SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Connolly & religion

THANK YOU for a wonderful article on James Connolly in the last issue of Socialism Today (Issue 100). However, I have one criticism of it: that it doesn’t touch on one of the major influences in Connolly’s life.

James Connolly was, like most people in Ireland at that time, a devout Catholic. I agree with Peter Hadden that after ninety years it is important for socialists to look at what Connolly believed in and what he fought for. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised to see that Peter had chosen Connolly’s pamphlet Labour, Nationality and Religion to illustrate his beliefs, especially when one is aware that the pamphlet was produced to answer the arguments of a Catholic priest against socialism.

Unfortunately Peter, I guess for reasons of space, doesn’t reproduce the whole quote, taken from the last paragraph of the pamphlet, but just the first line. The full paragraph reads:

"The day has passed for patching up the capitalist system; it must go. And in the work of abolishing it the Catholic and the Protestant, the Catholic and the Jew, the Catholic and the Freethinker, the Catholic and the Buddhist, the Catholic and the Mahometan will co-operate together, knowing no rivalry but the rivalry of endeavour toward an end beneficial to all. For, as we have said elsewhere, socialism is neither Protestant nor Catholic, Christian nor Freethinker, Buddhist, Mahometan, nor Jew; it is only Human. We of the socialist working class realise that as we suffer together we must work together that we may enjoy together. We reject the firebrand of capitalist warfare and offer you the olive leaf of brotherhood and justice to and for all".

This however leaves us with the question of how Connolly managed to square the circle of being a person of faith while also being a ‘Marxist, a revolutionary socialist and an internationalist’. And for that we must turn to an earlier work also published by the Irish Socialist Republican Party (ISRP), called Socialism and Religion, where Connolly says of socialism:

"We do not mean that its supporters are necessarily materialists in the vulgar, and merely anti-theological, sense of the term, but that they do not base their socialism upon any interpretation of the language or meaning of scripture, nor upon the real or supposed intentions of a beneficent Deity. They as a party neither affirm or deny those things, but leave it to the individual conscience of each member to determine what beliefs on such questions they shall hold. As a political party they wisely prefer to take their stand upon the actual phenomena of social life as they can be observed in operation amongst us to-day, or as they can be traced in the recorded facts of history".

This may have been the reason that his religious beliefs where not included in the article – because they were simply his own. However, as Marxists, in order to understand Connolly’s writings and his part in Irish history, we need to understand all the major influences on his life. That why I would encourage comrades of all faiths or none to read his works. The bulk of them, including both Labour, Nationality and Religion and Socialism and Religion can be found on the Marxist Internet Archive (

Scott Herbert,


The article in Socialism Today was an abridged version of a longer article that will appear on the website of the Socialist Party in Ireland ( in the next few months. This will deal with a number of issues that could not be covered in the Socialism Today article – for reasons of space – including Connolly and the ideas of syndicalism, religion, labour unionism, and his attitude to Germany in the first world war.


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