James Connolly on Marxism and Religion
It is a common idea that Marxism and religion are opposed to each other. I have heard this from Marxists and religious folks alike when I suggest that I'm trying to develop a religious vision of socialism from below/libertarian socialism. However, recently I've been stumbling across key texts from the history of Marxist revolutionary organizations that seem to challenge this assumption. I've been looking at Marxist parties and groups that did not narrowly imitate the practice of the Bolshevik Party in Russia, including Rosa Luxemburg's group in Poland/ Germany. Luxemburg engaged seriously with Christian theology, which is something hope to write about here in the future. I also just came across a great essay from James Connolly, who was a Marxist national liberation leader in Ireland and an early Irish American labor organizer in the US with the anarchist group the Industrial Workers of the World.
He argues that socialism is not opposed to religion because:
- most of the militant liberal atheists are also enemies of socialism. Their class base is the bourgeoisie/ ruling class.
- when the Pope attacks socialism he makes himself a fellow traveler of bourgeois atheists: "the ill-reasoned and inconclusive Encyclicals lately issued against Socialism make of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church belated camp followers in the armies marching under the banners raised by the agnostic exponents of the individualist philosophy."
- many workers falsely associate socialism with atheism/bourgeois criticism of religion because the propertied classes try to make this identification to discredit the socialists
- socialist parties should not take a position on questions of theology but should leave it up to their individual members to articulate a religious vision of socialism if they wish
-socialist doctrine is based on analysis of historical facts through human reason unassisted by faith. It does not require theological verification to be true. However, socialists welcome such theological verification if it helps the cause of socialism, they just can't be expected to make it party policy.
- the party should take this stance because it can't get caught up in battles between different religions or sects within religions
- Connolly models his party's policy on religion after that of the German SPD (Luxemburg's party). More on this later.
- He suggests this policy is designed to make religion a "private" matter. Would this leave him open to the critique that some liberation theologians have argued that making religion private ends up "privatizing" it, reinforcing bourgeois individualism and making ethics self serving, taking the bite of social critique out of religion and/ or demobilizing it as a force of liberation? Maybe not though because Connolly seems to suggest that individual party members can articulate a socialist vision of faith publicly if they want to, so it's not just private.
- But he does say that the Irish party should follow the German party in banning talk of religion or theology in party meetings or party events. I disagree with this, and the group I am helping build doesn't take this approach. I think when religious talk does come up we need to remind folks that they can't advocate for the revolutionary org as a whole to take a position in favor of any particular theology but they can openly discuss theology and can brainstorm with other group members about how to make theological arguments against patriarchy, capitalism, heterosexism, etc as cadre within the context of the group's organizing efforts.
- this quote sums up Connolly's position: "Socialism, as a party, bases itself upon its knowledge of facts, of economic truths, and leaves the building up of religious ideals or faiths to the outside public, or to its individual members if they so will. It is neither Freethinker nor Christian, Turk nor Jew, Buddhist nor Idolator, Mahommedan nor Parsee – it is only human."