“The Relevance of James Connolly in the 21st Century”
Dublin, 20–22 April 2001

Connolly and the Future of Marxism

(Extended version)

Thomas Metscher


After the breakdown of what was called the socialist world, the death of Marxism was officially proclaimed and triumphantly celebrated by the powers that had won the Cold War and considered themselves to be the winners of history. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (the leading German daily and mouthpiece of pro-capitalist ideology of international reputation and influence) spoke of “endgames” of Marxism, with reference to Beckettian endgames, and published a series of articles by authors who were once considered Marxists but who had, in the illuminating light of recent events, turned their coats and become eager to assist in burying the corpse.
      However, in the short period of history that has elapsed since the days of what Germans call die Wende—the “turning point” of history—these triumphant voices have calmed down remarkably. The corpse, instead of properly rotting and disappearing for good into the bowels of history, has (to use T. S. Eliot’s intriguing metaphor) begun to sprout. The spectre of Marx, alas, has made its reappearance in quite a few places in this big wide world—and this conference, shortly after Easter in the year 2001, held in the fair city of Dublin, is just one of the spots in which it raises its gloomy head. One of the reasons—the main reason in fact—for the resurrection of Marxism is the obvious inability of capitalism to solve any of the world’s urgent problems—economic, political, cultural, or ecological; instead, since the breakdown of socialism the innate barbarism of capitalism has unmistakably come to light. Capitalism, free now to discard its humanitarian masks, has revealed itself in its true nature: as a social formation constructed on the urges of greed and domination, with the profit motive as its sole anthropological substance. What it produces and leaves for future generations is a world ridden with war, hunger and disease, and threatened by ecological disaster—a “world turned upside down,” characterised by the “confusion and interchange of all natural and human qualities,”1 where money is the “visible goddess,” the “general whore,” and the “objectified ability of mankind,”2 where “labour produces a world of wonder for the rich but destitution and depravity (Entblößung) for the worker,” “palaces but hovels for the worker,” “beauty but deformation for the worker,” “intelligence but stupidity, idiocy for the worker”3—where the human being, as worker, is reduced to the animal functions of eating, drinking, and fucking (Marx says “Zeugen—procreating—but means just this). “The bestial/animal-like becomes the human, and the human the bestial.”4
      As for the essential nature of capitalism, despite its enormous transformations nothing in substance has changed since Marx wrote those lines. While the extremes of material deprivation might have moved site—from the metropolis to the so-called “Third World”—the intellectual, mental and psychic deprivation has, if anything, intensified in the age of consumer ideologies and media mass manipulation.
      What I propose to do in this lecture is to present an argument concerning the body of ideas which is commonly called “Marxism”—more properly speaking, materialism, dialectical and historical—a body of ideas which, though it bears the name of one man, is in fact the result and continuing work of many.
      I shall present the argument in three steps:
      First of all, I wish to give a brief outline of what, in my view, Marxism is essentially, what its basic principles are.
      Secondly, I shall try to delineate the kind of Marxism which I consider to be the only Marxism which holds promise for the future. I suggest the term “integrative Marxism” for this type of Marxism and shall try to explain what it is.
      In the final section I shall attempt to show that the Marxism which James Connolly represents is in essential points in line with what I term “integrative Marxism.” I shall examine Connolly’s contribution to it. It is my contention that this contribution is significant and, in a number of points, of considerable topicality.
      As Marxism is not a mere economic and political theory but a world view with a philosophical foundation, which has to be understood in order to comprehend its economic and political sides, any attempt to explain this theory has to touch upon this foundation and try to explain it. Moreover, it is politically necessary to go down to the basis of Marxism because so much nonsense is being spread around as to what it is and is not.

1  Principles of Marxism

Marxism, as it has evolved over the past 150 years, is a body of thought to which a large number of people, men and women on all continents of the globe, have contributed. Today it is no longer a “European” phenomenon but as a theory it is international. It exists in a plurality of forms (as “plural Marxism,” to use Wolfgang F. Haug’s established term) and is by no means a closed body of thought. This is a weakness, just as it is a strength. As a strength it indicates the richness of a theory into which a manifold of historical experience has entered. Its weakness lies in the fact that these forms are to a large extent disconnected: they frequently contradict each other in points of detail and sometimes in points of principle, without these contradictions being adequately discussed. An international platform of discussion in the full sense does not exist. One could even say that, at the present moment, there is hardly anybody who has a full knowledge of all the various “Marxisms” that exist. For the future, it is of primary importance to assemble these forms and establish—or at least try to establish—a unity of theory without losing the richness which the variety of forms contains.5
      For this reason it is essential to come to agreement about basic principles of Marxist theory. Such principles are logically necessary, and they are clearly stated in Marx’s writings.

1.1  Philosophy of praxis

Marxism, as originally envisaged by its founding parents (the classical line of “orthodox” Marxist thinking from Marx and Engels to, say, Lenin, Luxemburg, and Gramsci), aims at more than what normal and average forms of socialist thinking aim at. It shares with other forms of socialism the political aim of a socialist society (i.e. one in which the means of production are owned by those who produce the social and cultural wealth, ideally by the people as a whole), but it goes beyond that. Nor is it a mere economic, social and political theory, competing with other such theories within a plurality of theoretical positions. It is, in Antonio Gramsci’s formulation, a philosophy of praxis—a “critical and coherent conception of the world,”6 which is scientifically based, systematic, and comprehensive, serving a particular practical end: that of transforming the world which it theoretically explains, that is, to make it more habitable for human beings and permit the development of their potential. As Marx states in the eleventh thesis on Feuerbach, “the philosophers have only interpreted the world in different ways; what matters is to change it”7—a statement which is not directed against interpretation (i.e. theory; this is a gross, though frequent, misunderstanding) but holds that theory is essential and indispensable, though insufficient when it remains by itself. It is the necessary condition for changing the world in a purposeful, positive and meaningful way. It is based on science and not on prejudice and belief. It explains its predicaments and assumptions and systematically enfolds its arguments. It is comprehensive in that it covers (or tries to cover) all aspects of the social whole—from the economic sphere to civil society and the state, including religion, the arts, philosophy, and science itself. It covers (or tries to cover—this at least is its programme) all forms of human experience, private and public. In this sense it has an existential dimension, which is often ignored in vulgar and reductive forms of Marxism. It is, though scientifically based, not a mere scientific theory. It is a world view which offers answers—profane, this-worldly answers—to the question of the meaning of life.

1.2  Marxism as materialism

“. . . this tangible planet which is our habitat” (David Craig).
      Marxism is materialism in the simple sense that this conception of the world proposes the priority of matter over mind (traditionally speaking, of nature over divinity), of material conditions before ideas, and sees these ideas as reflecting agents of material conditions. In no sense does this mean that what we call “mind” and “ideas” are insubstantial or of secondary importance, but that mind and ideas are part of the material world, a result of the process of natural and social evolution, reflecting agents in that they mirror the natural and social world which gives birth to them and which they, at the same time, shape (the human mind is seen as an active mirror).
      In the terminology of present philosophical discourse, Marxism is an ontological realism: that is, it supports the contention of the existence of a structured world independent of our cognition (and independent of our linguistic construction of it), the contention that humans are part of this world, and that they are capable of acquiring knowledge of it, that this knowledge is part of the condition of their survival (a contention which, though it sounds elementary, is rejected by a large section of academic philosophy today), and the contention that language, though not a means of world-construction (the world—material reality—exists outside and independent of our language) is the primary reservoir of our knowledge of the world and the archive (Walter Benjamin) of our world-experience. In addition to being the basic means of communication, language, in connection with the material handling of the world, is the elementary medium through which external reality is intellectually appropriated and focused by the human mind. Language does not invent reality, but it appropriates and focuses reality as part of its material transformation into culture. Thus it “shapes” reality in the way that, in addition to and in combination with our material acts, it structures our world-experience; it constitutes the human world by transforming reality into a world for us.

1.3  “Sensuous practical activity”

Though Marxist materialism is a philosophy and can be philosophically “classified,” it is not an “academic” philosophy, and its starting point is not an abstract proposition. Its assumptions are “real assumptions from which one can only abstract in the imagination”: the empirically verifiable existence of living human beings who have to produce their means of living in order to survive—“real individuals, their actions and material conditions of life, those already existing as well as those created by their own actions.”8 Sinnlich menschliche Tätigkeit, Praxis, gegenständliche Tätigkeit is Marx’s key term—sensuous human activity related to material objects: sensuous practical activity in a world constituted by material objects (this is the meaning of the German gegenständliche Tätigkeit; the translation as “objective activity” is utterly misleading), the basic category of the “new materialism” (as opposed to the static, “contemplative” nature of the old materialism).9 “Activity” here is an inclusive term: it embraces all possible forms of human activity (from labour, in the sense of material production, to political, cultural, intellectual and artistic activity), though physical labour is its basic and paradigmatic component. It is basic because it provides the means of survival for the species (it is the elementary condition of human reproduction), and it is paradigmatic because, as it is constituted by a synthesis (a coming together) of physical and intellectual components (of physis and logos), it provides the structural model of all human activity as such. According to Capital, labour is
a process between man and nature in which man through his own activity mediates, regulates and controls the material exchange between himself and nature. He opposes himself to nature as one of its forces, setting in motion arms and legs, head and hands, the natural forces of his body, in order to appropriate natural matter in a form adapted to his own wants. By thus acting on the external world and changing it, he at the same time changes his own nature. He develops the potentials which slumber in it and compels the play of their powers to act in obedience to his will . . . We presuppose labour in a form that stamps it as exclusively human. A spider constructs operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of its cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect has constructed the cell in his head before he builds it in wax. At the end of every labour-process, a result emerges that already existed in the imagination [Vorstellung] of the labourer at its commencement.10
This passage is quite remarkable. It contends that in the labour process, human consciousness (the “cell” built in the head of the labourer before constructing it in reality) precedes the actual process of material production. In this instance (but in this instance alone) consciousness determines material being—though this consciousness in itself is the result of natural evolution and the sum of the experience of handling objects of nature over an “infinite” number of generations: in fact the sum total of the accumulated knowledge of the species. Thus the synthesis of cognitive and physical components in the labour process is a truly dialectical one.11
      The concept of sensuous practical activity as activity in a material world constitutes the theoretical foundation of Marxist materialism. In contrast to traditional materialism, it stresses the subjective moment in the relationship of man and nature, thereby integrating the “positive” side of idealism (from Kant to Hegel) which “had developed the active side” of this relationship though ignoring “real sensuous activity as such.”12 In a sense, the new materialism forms a synthesis of traditional materialism, with its insistence on sensuous objectivity (“reality in the form of object”), and idealism, with its insistence on the subject as active force in this relationship. It sees the relationship of subject and object (the human and nature) as a dynamic (indeed dialectical) process of mutual change and formation, as a process within an all-embracing natural world. In fact the human is in the world (to use Martin Heidegger’s famous phrase from Being and Time) as an acting being before it enters any specific relationship to any specific object—before the specific constitution of an explicit relationship of “subject” and “object” takes place. The human is as much a part of this embracing natural world as its surrounding material objects are, and the only advantage which it has over the other natural beings, to follow Friedrich Engels, is the ability to gain knowledge of natural laws and apply this knowledge to the purpose of transforming the natural world (Dialectics of Nature). What we call culture, human history and the process of civilisation are, at base, the work of this transformation, the result of the sensuous practical activity of humans as the activity within the surrounding natural world. They therefore remain, in a fundamental sense, but by necessity, within the boundaries of the natural world, the physis (as the Greeks called it). Thus, the human world is the creation of a second world within the first world of nature, and any attempt to transcend this first world and establish the human world as autonomous, above and divorced from the first world of nature, is doomed to catastrophic failure.
      The basic notion and conceptual starting point of Marxist materialism—sensuous practical activity—is empirically verifiable,13 in the sense of an empiricism of practical living. Praxis itself is the criterion of its validity. Anyone who refutes the truth of the statement that humans have to eat before they are able to think—before, in fact, they are able to continue living—should try to falsify this assertion with reference to him or herself. The basic criterion of truth of Marxist materialism, therefore, is what I term practical self-evidence. It is self-evident that I am a living (thinking, feeling, acting) being in a world constituted by objects (animate and inanimate), together with other such living beings, not as an autonomous self but in close relation to, in connection with and dependence on them. The “empiricism” of this practical self-evidence should not be confused with the “empiricism” of traditional philosophy or “ordinary” scientific theories. It is of a much more basic and elementary kind. You might call it empiricism of an existential kind: it concerns our everyday life, our quest for happiness and struggle for survival. Whether it “qualifies” academically as a “methodological” departure of philosophical argument at present-day universities is an entirely different question. As a rule, it does not. It is regarded as philosophically “impure” and so it is excluded from the halls of learning. But this, in truth, is not a question of philosophical argument but of ideological contest.
      The conceptual starting point of Marxist materialism is by no means as simple as it appears. Sensuous practical activity, as a notion, is highly complex in itself. It implies a number of ontological as well as anthropological assumptions which can be rationally explained—assumptions as to what human beings are and what their nature entails, as to the relationship of the human and the natural world of which humans are part, and as to the “nature” of this natural world and of the human world as a second world within the world of nature. These assumptions have enormous consequences for an understanding of society, culture, history, and nature itself. It is precisely the task of Marxist philosophy to explain and elucidate these assumptions—a vast field of investigation and research which, so far, has only been done in part. Much remains to be done. In what follows, the most I can do is to elaborate on a few points within this bundle of complex notions.

1.4  History and the human agent

As indicated above, Marx coined the phrase “new materialism” to distinguish his conception of the world from the static, mechanistic, objectivist and “contemplative” world view of traditional forms of materialism, stressing the active role of the human subject in the process of world-formation: the human self as agent (from Latin agere, ago—to set something in motion, to produce, to make, to construct). Man (in the generically neutral sense of “the human,” i.e. comprising men and women) is seen as immensely creative, in fact as creator of his and her own world, history being the field, indeed the body, of this self-creation. “The whole movement of history,” the young Marx wrote with reference to communism, is the “real act of birth of its empirical being,”14 the “whole so-called world history nothing else than the making of man through human labour, the becoming of nature for man.”15 Though the rhetoric of the formulation is in many ways still quite close to Hegel, the essence of the underlying idea carries the weight of the mature work—the conviction that history is the body of human self-production. Antonio Gramsci has very aptly captured this central concept of Marx’s thinking. The decisive question, he argues, is not what man empirically is but what man can become. It is the question of the potential of the human being—whether humans are or will be able to control their destiny, whether they are able to “make” themselves, to create a life for themselves. In the Prison Notebooks, Gramsci writes:
What is man? This is the primary and principal question that philosophy asks. How is it to be answered? The definition can be found in man himself, that is, in each individual man. But is it correct? In every individual man one can discover what every “individual man” is. But we are not interested in what every individual man is, which then comes to mean what every individual man is at every individual moment. Reflecting on it, we can see that in putting the question “what is man?” what we mean is: what can man become? That is, can man dominate his own destiny, can he “make himself,” can he create his own life? We maintain therefore that man is a process, and, more exactly, the process of his actions. If you think about it, the question itself “what is man?” is not an abstract or “objective” question. It is born of our reflection about ourselves and about others, and we want to know, in relation to what we have thought and seen, what we are and what we can become; whether we really are, and if so to what extent, “makers of our own selves,” of our life and of our destiny. And we want to know this “today,” in the given conditions of today, the conditions of our daily life, not of any life or any man.16
Gramsci’s “principal” question is in fact a very concrete one, a question of “today” which has to be asked in any given new situation. And what a human being is—the process of its actions—will always be decided by its actions in a given concrete situation which in itself is the result of previous human actions. The subject is never alone but with others, and it finds itself in a structured world, a “world constituted by objects” but constituted according to social relations, primarily those of gender, property, and power. Thus, the “body of history” has its objective as well as its subjective side, and this “objective” side, its given “structure,” determines the scope of the potential actions of humans and, thus, their possibilities in a given situation. History is a structured totality, an ensemble of historical relations (to modify the 6th thesis on Feuerbach) in every given historical moment, and it changes not simply because the productive forces and political relations change but because of human activities which make them change (as the development of productive forces does not happen in some mysterious way “by itself” but by the actions of human beings who make them develop). Human activity is at the core of all historical change and all social, cultural and technological transformation.
      In this complex sense, Marxist materialism is intrinsically and essentially historical, historicity being one of its key elements. Marxism, as “philosophy of praxis,” according to Gramsci, is an “absolute historicism, the absolute worldliness and profanity of thought and absolute humanism of history.”17 This means it is primarily concerned with human history, with the structures of the historical process and with humans as its agents; but it is not merely concerned “objectively” with this history: it is ethically concerned with it, as it is passionately motivated by the question “what man can become.” This is the essence of its “partisanship.”

1.5  Culture

The Marxist concept of culture is, in a very intricate sense, connected with the idea of human self-production in and through the historical process. Culture, in a precise theoretical sense, is not just “a whole way of life.” It is, rather, one essential aspect of a whole way of life (i.e. the totality of social relations) of a group, a class, or a people. The cultural aspect is the aspect of human self-assertion, self-production and self-formation in all ways of life, i.e. within the totality of social relations. Culture always denotes creativity and the development of abilities of the social self-formation of the human potential. This development and self-formation, as a form of gegenständliche Tätigkeit, has its subjective as well as its objective side: it is sensuous practical activity asserting itself in material objects, in the works of the cultural world. These works are objectifications (Vergegenständlichungen) of human ability, and it is only in the form of such objectifications and through the appropriation of such objectifications that cultural progress takes place. This dialectic underlies the whole process of civilisation.
      The concept of the “two cultures,” which Lenin introduced to Marxist theory, refers to class antagonism in cultural relations: a ruling “first culture” which, as the culture of the ruling class, plays a dominating role in a class society, determining its whole cultural formation, and an opposing “second culture,” the cultural expression of the people. “Second culture,” in a precise sense, denotes human self-assertion and self-formation under conditions of oppression and exploitation, frequently in conscious forms of opposition and resistance. Furthermore, it refers to certain ideological qualities arising out of the experience of suffering and resistance. (These qualities might be summarised in the terms “subversive,” “radical,” “anarchist,” “democratic,” and “socialist”—the list is certainly incomplete.) A second culture is always articulated vis-à-vis a dominating first culture: it is a culture “formulated from below,” just as first culture is “formulated from above.” The concept of the two cultures is therefore a dialectical concept. Both cultures refer to each other, they are actively related to each other, and it is quite meaningless to define the one without reference to the other. They are both part and parcel of the dialectics of class relations.

1.6  Dialectics

As radical historicism, Marxist materialism is dialectical. It conceives of the historical process as one that is made up of moving contradictions: a process of contradictory forces moving towards a synthesis, i.e. the solution of given contradictions through human activity.18 Negation, the very fact of antagonism—the contradicting component in any given historical situation—is the driving force of historical progression. In this sense, dialectics formulates the law of social processes. History possesses a quality of drama, and the actual points at which the structure of historical movement is most clearly recognisable are the points of confrontation of opposing social classes—the “epochs of social revolution.”19 These are points of tense dramatic development. At such points, history moves into a decisive stage of change; it is charged with potentiality, though this change never happens “by itself.” It requires the human agent to set the potential free and direct the historical process into one direction or another. A concept of determined freedom is applicable here. It can be used to describe the relationship of an objectively given potential (a potential of possibilities of historical development and transformation) in a given situation and the actual choice made by agents in this situation (Connolly’s choice in Ireland in 1916; Lenin’s choice in Russia in 1917). The relationship between actual choice and given potential is itself a dialectical one.

1.7  Class

Class as the key concept of historical social formation—as the key concept, in fact, of the structure of the historical process—is the historical dialectical concept par excellence: class relations underlie the process of historical formation and progress. “The history of all hitherto existing society” (i.e. all history recorded in writing) “is the history of class struggles.”20
      This does not mean that any given event of recorded history is the direct expression of a class conflict (which would be an obviously nonsensical contention) but that the class structure underlies the historical process, and it determines its objectively given form. It lies at the heart of social formations as the total structures out of which history as a process is constructed (e.g. feudal society, capitalist society), which enter stages of transformation through evolutionary or revolutionary change. It is for this reason, as a structurally determining factor and not for some patriarchal prejudice, that the priority of class in historical materialism is to be maintained: priority of class over all other social categories, including gender; priority with a view to social formations as formative structures of the historical process. Class is defined at base with reference to the means of production (who owns the means of production?) but relates to all spheres of the social whole: the state, the legal system, civil society (the realms of culture, science, religion), not to the economic sphere alone. Who is in control of the legislative, judicial and executive power? Who is in charge of the education system? Who owns and runs the media? These are the questions, and all these questions are irrevocably connected with class.
      Priority of class over gender in no sense means underestimating gender as a formative factor in social relations. Gender is certainly the second most important factor in the constitution of a social formation, and in certain spheres—such as the family and sexual relations—it may have priority. Priority of class is restricted to the meaning of a structural priority in the constitution of social totalities (of society as a whole).

1.8  Critical theory and experimental thinking

In a very specific sense—though it cannot be reduced to this aspect without losing its identity—Marxism is a critical theory. It is a critical theory in so far as dialectics incorporates negation as an essential integral part: negation as criticism of a given historical formation, of relations of power, of ideologies in the sense of institutionalised as well as individual forms of social consciousness, and as critique of scientific theories, including the critical examination of its own theoretical assumptions and results.
      Dialectics, in this dimension, is a method of historical inquiry and social criticism. It is, in Bertolt Brecht’s concise formulation, “the art of practical negation”21; critical thinking is “the negation of what is immediately before us.”22 Dialectics is critical thinking, but constructive critical thinking—“a criticism which criticises with regard to a specific possible solution.”23 It is furthermore concrete critical thinking in so far as it applies to specific aspects of historical reality. Its function is to “bring out contradictions,” taking into consideration the “laws of development.”24 Dialectical criticism refers to history as a structured totality, to society as composed of antagonistically and dynamically related opposites: Kampf der Klassen—war of the classes (“An die Nachgeborenen”).
      The criteria of dialectical criticism, therefore, are not arbitrary, nor are they mere postulates of practical reason in the Kantian sense. They are historical in themselves. They are related to a “specific possible solution,”25 i.e. a positive solution which, in a given historical situation, is historically possible: they are given as anticipations of the solution of an existing conflict. In this sense they are part of the anticipatory function of human consciousness.26
      As a dialectical critical theory, Marxism, in its essence as a method of scientific inquiry, is experimental thinking. It follows up new ways, enters undiscovered ground, and explores unknown territories of experience and knowledge. Following Brecht, Marxism’s methodological paradigm is Galileo’s scientific experiment in which concurring hypotheses are tried out in order to distinguish the valid from the invalid, the true from the false.27 Praxis is the main criterion of falsification and verification.

1.9  Ethics of liberation

The question of standards of dialectical criticism—where does this criticism take its criteria from? what is the foundation in which it grounds them?—raises a fundamental problem of Marxist theory, that of its ethical foundation. Does Marxism have such a foundation? Does it need such a foundation? In my view, and in the light of Marx’s writings, both questions have to be answered in the affirmative. Marxism is in need of such a foundation to justify its ends, and this foundation is given—implicitly, though not in explicit detail—in Marx’s texts.
      Marxism proposes, as I have pointed out, a comprehensive and coherent world view which is based in science and serves the practical end of transforming the world which it theoretically explains. It is a philosophy of praxis in the twofold sense of explaining human praxis and offering a guideline to its change. Exactly as a guideline to change, Marxism implies an ethics of liberation. Marx is quite explicit on this: such an ethics is the leading motive of his theoretical and practical activities. “The critique of religion,” he writes in the introduction to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, “ends with the doctrine that man is the highest being for man, i.e. with the categorical imperative to overthrow all conditions under which man is a degraded, enslaved, abandoned and contemptible being.”28 If this is not a point of ethics, a strongly argued one in fact, I do not know what “ethics” is. Marx makes use of the key term of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason (the classic work on ethics in modern idealism), the “categorical imperative,” but again in the sense of a transformation. Kant’s abstract notion, which only defines the formal rule of moral praxis (“Act in such a way that the maxims [i.e. guidelines] of your will might at any time serve as principles of a general legislation”29), is transformed into a principle of action which is directed against the reality of human degradation (material, intellectual, mental, psychic) and follows the aim of full human emancipation. “The critique of religion,” Marx argues, “has plucked off petal for petal the imaginary flowers on the chain, not so that human beings should wear the unimaginative, inconsolable chain, but in order that they should throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.”30 What matters is that humans “turn around themselves and therewith around their real sun”31—that man becomes the highest being for man.
      Marx’s ethics, one might say, is an ethics of practical moral abilities—tugendhafte Fertigkeiten, to use Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s apt phrase, the ethics of a radical pragmatic humanism, a humanism concerned with practical living. At its centre stands the idea of the fully developed social individual.

1.10  Radical humanism and the concept of the social individual

“Philosophers have only interpreted the world in different ways, what matters is to change it.” The aim of this change is not—and this is quite contrary to the common understanding of Marxism—some perfect world, a paradise on earth. It is nothing more and nothing less than the creation of conditions which make possible the full development of the potentials of each individual in a given historical situation. The envisaged world is not a world without death, without tragedy, but the profane world of ordinary human existence—but without the deformations which are enforced on humans by all relations of power and exploitation, thus creating conditions for the unhindered development of the human potential. Marx’s view is a non-utopian view of socialist (“classless”) society. It categorically rejects any suggestion to picture this society, even in outline. Marx makes sparing use of the term “realm of freedom,” as opposed to “realm of necessity” (these terms again stem from the idealistic tradition), but only in a very formal sense: the realm of freedom is based and always will be based on the realm of necessity (“freedom,” in this realm, can only mean the rational collective control of the associated producers over the processes of production, distribution and consumption) and is characterised by die menschliche Kraftentwicklung, die sich als Selbstzweck gilt—the development of human powers (what I term the human potential) as an end in itself, i.e. no longer serving an outside (utilitarian) purpose.32 In fact, at the conceptual centre of Marx’s view of socialist society stands the notion of the individual (as social individual). The individual, one might say, is the “site” on which the development of human power as an end in itself takes place. It is the human form of its realisation.
      Marx is quite explicit on this point. For him, the “fully developed individual” (always related to the specific potentials of specific individuals in specific situations, not in the sense of an abstract ideal) is the cardinal point of the new society beyond capitalism. In the Communist Manifesto he speaks of the “world” which the proletarians have to “win” as an “association in which the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all.”33 This idea is still at the heart of Capital, where the “full and free development of each individual” is stated as being the “basic principle” of the new (“higher”) social formation34—the “universally developed individuals” as products “not of nature but of history,” as he puts it in the Grundrisse.35 This concept of the individual, though terminologically closely connected with traditional humanist thinking, has nothing in common with the bourgeois notion of the single and solitary (the so-called “autonomous”) self. What is meant is the social individual: the individual who only exists in society and in relation with others (who can, as Marx sharply says, “only isolate itself in society”). The human being is a social being (a zōon politikon) in its very anthropological substance, and it is social, just as it is historical. There is no such thing as an abstract (trans-historical) “human essence.” “The human essence,” as stated in the Theses on Feuerbach, “is not an abstract which dwells in single individuals. In its reality it is the ensemble of social relations.”36 “Ensemble of social relations” means the structured whole (the “totality”) of the specific world in which an individual lives, not only “industry” (which, in the Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts, is described as “the opened book of the essential human powers”) but the whole of social relations, including culture, science, religion, and the arts. It is in this sphere that the human essence is located, and only through an analysis of all of it can the question of what the human essence is be answered.
      It is this concern with human liberation, with the full emancipation and self-fulfilment of concrete human individuals, as the ultimate purpose of all theory which qualifies Marxism, in an unequivocal sense, as an “absolute humanism of history.”37 All attempts to negate this and reconstruct Marx’s theory as a “theoretical anti-humanism”38 violate one of its most essential components.

2  Integrative Marxism

2.1  Marxism and the power of synthesis

It is my contention that Marxism in the form indicated—as a philosophy of praxis, a theory which is dialectical, historical and, in a radical sense, humanistic—is a force which possesses an enormous theoretical and political potential—a potential which to a large extent is untried and undiscovered. It has something to offer which no other modern theory offers: a critical, coherent and comprehensive conception of the world with a clearly defined practical aim. Marxism, in this sense, is the most advanced and most complex of theories opposing capitalism as the apparent and self-proclaimed winner of history. In this fundamental opposition, Marxism is not alone: it is part of an opposing historical front which is made up of a number of voices and forces—other types of socialism; anarchism; anti-capitalist feminist, ecological and religious thinking—and many individual articulations, particularly among artists, scientists, and philosophers. But none of these has to offer what Marxism offers: a complex, comprehensive world view rooted in science, which allows for a large number of individual modifications, with an explanatory power potentially covering the totality of historical experience, functioning as a guideline to political praxis. In this respect (but in this respect alone—not in any sense “morally”) Marxism has been, and still is, the classic opponent to capitalism. It is for this reason, I believe, that capitalism tends to deal quite “liberally,” sometimes even generously, with its other opponents, leaving them some room to articulate their views in the media, the sciences and the arts, but has little patience with consistent Marxism, particularly in its communist form. Even where direct political suppression is not used, the chances for consistent Marxists to present their views freely are slim, sometimes non-existent, and if their views are referred to or presented it mostly happens in a distorted way. Though declared dead, the spectre of communism still seems to haunt the capitalist world and trouble the powers that rule it; and although this world is not, as in the days of the Communist Manifesto, old Europe alone but a globalised world, what Marx said in the Manifesto is still applicable: “All powers of this world are united in a holy whip hunt against this spectre,”39 wherever it raises its head.
      Part of this whip hunt—a main ideological instrument, particularly in those parts of the capitalist world which are, in a formal sense, democratically constituted—is to present Marxism as a “simple” theory, resting on a few naïve assumptions and quasi-religious beliefs. In truth, just the opposite is the case. Marxism is a highly complex, in many ways a difficult, theory—in fact its theoretical strength lies not a little in its complexity. The complexity of Marxism is due not to some implicitly given “truth,” nor is it because Marxists are more intelligent people than the adherents of other persuasions, but it is because Marxism possesses an enormous power of synthesis, an integrative and creative potential. As this is a point of considerable importance, and just the opposite to what in common belief Marxism is supposed to be, it has to be explained in some detail.
      What I mean is this: Marxism has the power to integrate or synthesise the valid parts of other, even of opposing, theories and ideological positions—if not in its present state of theoretical development, at least as a theoretical potential. This integrative power includes the ability to learn from other theories—what might be termed the ability of critical learning.
      The integrative power of Marxism works on four levels:
      1. As scientifically based theory, Marxism is compelled to integrate the results of scientific discovery into its system. Though it is not a mere summary or application of scientific discovery, Marxism has to transform itself and develop as theory alongside the development of the sciences (“the sciences” in the widest possible sense).
      2. Marxism, though based on scientific knowledge, is not epistemologically restricted to scientific knowledge. As a comprehensive and critical conception of the world it will try to integrate, though of course critically, all forms of knowledge, e.g. the knowledge of everyday consciousness (“common sense”40), the knowledge incorporated in mythology, religion and the arts.41
      3. As a self-contained theory, and on the basis of its radical humanist ethics, Marxism has a capacity to formulate a critique of given forms of knowledge, including scientific knowledge and scientific discoveries (a problem stated brilliantly in Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo), according to criteria which are derived from its humanist ethics. Marxism is not the “servant” of scientific progress, rather its critical companion. It will always ask the question Cui bono?—will such-and-such discovery “relieve the hardships of human existence.”42
      4. As a dialectical theory Marxism is in possession of a method—in my view the only method—which is able to decipher ideologies as consisting of contradictory components: to read ideologies as containing “true” and “false” moments, and to distinguish the valid from the invalid in a given ideology. (Marx’s critique of religion sees religion not simply as an illusion but as the realisation of a human potential in an imaginary form.)43
      What I do not mean by power of integration (or synthesis), however, is the simple, though very fashionable, tagging on to Marxism of some other form of thought—existentialism, psychoanalysis, feminism, ecological thinking, structuralism, post-structuralism—the topping up, as it were, of Marx with some Freud, Nietzsche, Foucault or Derrida, or whoever is the dernier cri in academic circles. Just the opposite is what I have in mind: the re-articulation (which of necessity includes some form of critique) of other theories—the valid elements of other theories—on Marxism’s own ground: a non-eclectic synthesis of other, even opposing, views. How this is done is not an easy matter to explain, and I have no time to go into any detail here, but it can be done, and it has been done in the best of Marxist writing.44 It has been done, as I wish to show, in the work of James Connolly.
      What I have in mind is a Marxism of a “non-exclusive” type, i.e. one which includes the best and most progressive aspects of other theories, a form of Marxism which I will term integrative Marxism. And it is this type of Marxism which, I believe, is the Marxism of James Connolly, the one to which he made a lasting contribution.
      It is my suggestion that, only in the form indicated here—as a comprehensive, critical and coherent, practically oriented conception of the world, which makes full and continuous use of its integrative power (including, not excluding, other theories and positions)—can Marxism be restored and renewed as a force for the future and as a force with a future, a force with the ability to shape the future. It has no future, however, or only a very limited future (one that is restricted to exclusive academic circles), in its prevalent reductive forms.

2.2  Critique of reductive Marxism

Marxism, as I have indicated, is a theory in a contested and ideologically embattled field, and it exists in a plurality of forms, which, in relation to each other, are often opposed in a number of points. It must be said that the prevailing forms of Marxism in the last fifty years were, to a large extent, highly reductive forms, despite their obvious variety and frequent opposition to each other—and this applies to eastern and western Marxism alike, though of course in different ways.
      What official Marxism-Leninism, the state ideology of the socialist countries, and various forms of western Marxism (from critical theory to structuralist and post-structuralist Marxisms) have in common is that they reduce a highly complex and intricate theory to a limited number of its components—that they are or were exclusive types of Marxism. Marxism-Leninism (you might, with justification, call it dogmatic Marxism) presented itself more or less as a comprehensive “closed” theory—in fact a doctrine, a sort of textbook theory—while ignoring the critical, dynamic and experimental character of dialectical thinking, thinking which, by its very nature, is continuously on the move: open, not closed; dynamic, not static. Critical Marxism stresses just this point—this is its positive side—but it reduces dialectics to mere negative thinking, rejecting or ignoring the synthetic side of dialectics and the systematic character of dialectical theory. This applies to classical critical theory (T. W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer), which presents itself as negative thinking (“negative dialectics”)—a permanent critique of society—just as it applies, though in a more complex way, to the critical Marxism of Wolfgang F. Haug and the Argument circle. Here, Marxism centres on the critique of political economy, feminist theory, and the theory of ideology and culture. Though the importance of these contributions to contemporary Marxism should not be denied for a moment, their reductionist character is manifest: they reduce Marxism to a number of aspects which, though they are essential to it, restrict the scope of Marxism to a limited part of human experience.
      The classical case perhaps of reductive Marxism is the so-called structuralist Marxism of Louis Althusser and his school. This type of Marxism was highly influential internationally for quite a considerable period of time, particularly in academic circles. It presents itself as programmatically anti-historicist and anti-humanist. Marxism is seen as “theoretical anti-humanism.” History, for Althusser, is a “process without subject and aim.” It is open to debate whether this type of thinking has not passed the frontier of genuine Marxist theory, as it violates some of its essential—in my view, indispensable—components: historicism, humanism, the concept of the subjective agent.45 Again, I do not suggest that structuralist Marxism is altogether “wrong.” Its strength—and achievement—is to have worked out the objective side of Marxist theory: the social whole as structured, and these structures as determinants of social beings. The point is, however, that in Althusserian Marxism the social beings, the subjects, disappear, and all that matters is the objectivity of “structures”—a way of thinking which has become very commonplace, particularly in cultural studies and highbrow journalism (anybody who wants to be “with it” talks about the “death of the subject” these days, though hardly anybody can say what it means), intensified by fashionable hard-core ideologies proclaiming the end of history and the principal inability of humans for any kind of autonomous action, crowned by the abolition of all ideas concerning truth, reason, and the dignity of human life.
      It is no exaggeration, I think, to say that those forms of Marxism which exercised some intellectual influence and found acceptance in the capitalist world in the course of the last twenty or thirty years were Marxisms mostly of a highly reductive kind. In such forms mostly, and with few exceptions, Marxism found entrance into the media, the cultural scene, and academic circles. One might add—and this is just the other side of the coin—that these Marxisms have been and still are highly academic exercises: restricted to the university intelligentsia and shaped by this social exclusion (in many ways also linguistically shaped). Again with some notable exceptions, they, as a rule, do not wish to have anything to do with organised labour (organised labour is normally regarded as either dogmatic or accommodated, and in any case “not radical enough”); in the past, in fact, they have frequently been openly hostile to the labour movement.
      I do not suggest for a moment, and I wish to be very clear on this point, that all these theories are worthless or unable to contribute to the advance of Marxism. This would be as arrogant as it would be false. Much good work has been done within the confines of Marxist-Leninist theory, and there are many valid contributions by critical, structuralist and other “western” Marxists. It would be fatal, again, to set one type of Marxism in an exclusive opposition to the others. All I suggest is that it is a common, co-operative task to work out a truly comprehensive and integrative, an inclusive, not exclusive, Marxist theory—a theory that includes the valid contributions that have been made in the past and are being made in the present.
      The attempt to establish a non-dogmatic, truly integrative form of Marxism follows a steep and narrow path. It is the laborious attempt to work out a theory in a highly contested field and to enter areas which Marxists have often avoided, on which little Marxist work has been done. Part of this project is the reconstruction of Marxist theory with reference to its history: to pay special attention to those forms of Marxism in which the integrative moment was central.
      It is my suggestion here that Connolly, as a theoretician of Marxism as well as in his political practice, represents in a very accurate sense the type of Marxism which I have in mind and which I suggest to be the Marxism of the future and the Marxism with a future: Marxism as an integrative, critical and coherent conception of the world, set up for the specific purpose of its transformation.

3  The Marxism of James Connolly

Connolly’s Marxism is a valid and lasting contribution to integrative Marxism. It is highly individual, arising out of a very special historical situation: that of a colonially subjected country inside Europe, a country with a very distinctive history, dominated by colonial conquest and the struggle against it.
      Connolly’s Marxism is not highly theorised. It is eminently pragmatic, connected as it is with concrete political work and ideological struggle. It is, in a non-derogatory sense, theoretically elementary. Connolly did not have the theoretical training of, say, Marx, Engels, Luxemburg, or Lenin, but he had a keen theoretical instinct, sharpened by a sound working knowledge of socialist theory and Marx’s own writings. He was—unlike the founding fathers of Marxist theory, who were intellectuals by training and profession—a proletarian organic intellectual in the Gramscian sense:46 he grew out of his class and remained part of it. It was Gramsci’s conviction that
the working class, like the bourgeoisie before it, is capable of developing from within its ranks its own organic intellectuals, and the function of the political party, whether mass or vanguard, is that of channelling the activity of these organic intellectuals and providing a link between the class and certain sections of the traditional intelligentsia. The organic intellectuals of the working class are defined on the one hand by their role in production and in the organisation of work and on the other by their “directive” political role, focused on the Party. It is through this assumption of conscious responsibility, aided by absorption of ideas and personnel from the more advanced bourgeois intellectual strata, that the proletariat can escape from defensive corporatism and economism and advance towards hegemony.47
Proletarian organic intellectuals are “elites of intellectuals of a new type which arise directly out of the masses, but remain in contact with them to become, as it were, the whalebone in the corset.”48
      This applies very closely, in fact literally, to James Connolly. “Connolly’s philosophy of the labour movement,” Cathal O’Shannon writes in his introduction to Labour in Ireland,
was definitely working-class. He was of the working class, and his aim was the advancement of the working class to power. He made no bones about that, he was quite frank about it, and he never turned aside from it. His every thought, his every word, his every act was never for a moment divorced from the hard, and often hellish, realities of the life of the working class.49
In fact Connolly was, as far as I can see, the first classic Marxist organic intellectual of the international labour movement—the first who was not only a political leader and occasional pamphleteer but also a sound theoretician who contributed theoretically to the advance of Marxism.
      In the final part of my paper I shall elaborate on twelve points which, in my view, are essential to Connolly’s Marxism. On a number of them he made lasting, on some highly original contributions to Marxist theory; others he shares with other Marxist thinkers. Connolly, of course, was not, and did not intend to be, original on all these points. A large number of his arguments are what one might call Marxist common sense—based on a knowledge which grew organically out of his working-class experience, economic, social, and political, as the result of theorising on this experience. This experience, its depth, integrity and intensity, permeates all his theoretical work: nowhere is there a trace of the glib self-satisfaction and linguistic arrogance which is so characteristic a mark of much academic Marxism. “The working class,” Connolly has said, “can think and speak only in language as hard and definite as its life,”50 and this applies to Connolly’s own theoretical language: it is as hard and definite as the experience which underlies it.
      The list of points is not meant to be exclusive, in the sense that no more could be added to this list. I address the ones that I consider to be the most vital—that, in my view, remain valid in contemporary Marxism and that contribute to the type of Marxism which I have in mind.
      As a detailed discussion of all these points would by far exceed the space available in this paper (a comprehensive discussion of them might require the size of a book),51 I restrict myself, with two exceptions, to short remarks on each point, giving an outline of my view of the problem discussed, with some textual evidence added for proof and illustration.

3.1  Historical materialism and historical thinking

There can be no doubt that history—“historicity” in the Gramscian sense—is at the centre of Connolly’s thinking. His major works are historical ones—Labour in Irish History and The Re-Conquest of Ireland—and all his political analyses are permeated by historical thinking. Historical awareness, a socialist sense of the past, is always explicitly or implicitly present. He clearly and emphatically states his basic position and his debt to Karl Marx, “the greatest of modern thinkers and the first of scientific Socialists.”52 He quotes Marx’s concept of history (from The German Ideology) and explains his setting forth
the Socialist key to the pages of history in order that it may be the more readily understood why in the past the governing classes have ever and always aimed at the conquest of political power as the guarantee for their economic domination—or, to put it more plainly, for the social subjection of the masses—and why the freedom of the workers, even in the political sense, must be incomplete and insecure until they wrest from the governing classes the possession of the land and instruments of wealth production.53
Historical materialism, Connolly says,
teaches that the ideas of men are derived from their material surroundings, and that the forces which made and make for historical changes and human progress had and have their roots in the development of the tools men have used in their struggle for existence, using the words “tools” in its broadest possible sense to include all the social forces of wealth-production. It teaches that since the break-up of common ownership and the clan community all human history has turned around the struggle of contending classes in society—one class striving to retain possession, first of the persons of the other class and hold them as chattel-slaves, and then of the tools of the other class and hold them as wage-slaves; that all the politics of the world resolved themselves in the last analysis into a struggle for the possession of that portion of the fruits of labour which labour creates, but does not enjoy, i.e. rent, interest, profit.54
The Irish question, he expounds,
is a social question, the whole age-long fight of the Irish people against their oppressors resolves itself, in the last analysis, into a fight for the mastery of the means of life, the sources of production, in Ireland. Who owns and controls the land? . . . Without this key to the meaning of events, this clue to unravel the actions of “great men,” Irish history is but a welter of unrelated facts, a hopeless chaos of sporadic outbreaks, treacheries, intrigues, massacres, murders, and purposeless warfare. With this key all things become understandable and traceable to their primary origin; without this key the lost opportunities of Ireland seem such as to bring a blush to the cheek of the Irish worker; with this key Irish history is a lamp to his feet in the stormy paths of today . . . social subjection [is] at the root of the matter.55

3.2  Class as a key concept of social formation and historical progression

Connolly followed Marx not only in the general outline of historical-materialist doctrine but also in the specific sense that class is a key concept of social formation and historical progression. “Since the break-up of common ownership,” he writes in the quotation given above from the Workers’ Republic, “all human history has turned around the struggle of contending classes in society.”56 In Labour in Irish History, discussing William Thompson as “the first Irish socialist” and a “forerunner of Marx,” he comments that “although Thompson recognised this class war as a fact, he did not recognise it as a factor, as the factor in the evolution of society towards freedom. This was reserved for Marx, and in our opinion, is his chief and crowning glory.”57

3.3  Marxism as radical humanism: The ethics of liberation and the concept of socialism

Marxism, as Gramsci emphatically contended, is the “absolute humanism of history,” though, in form and content, essentially different from all other hitherto existing kinds of humanism. The new humanism is distinguished from the old primarily by the constitutive role of the concept of labour: labour as the base of the process of civilisation. What stands at the centre of socialist humanism, therefore, is the well-being, the full sensual, mental and intellectual emancipation primarily of the working people. In this sense, the new humanism is proletarian. Its main concern is the masses of the people. This idea undoubtedly lies at the heart of Connolly’s writings. It clearly forms the content of his concept of the aim of socialism. The following quotations bear this out: they need no detailed commentary.
Ireland, as distinct from her people, is nothing to me; and the man who is bubbling over with love and enthusiasm for “Ireland,” and can yet pass unmoved through the streets and witness all the wrong and the suffering, the shame and the degradation wrought upon the people of Ireland—yes, wrought by Irishmen upon Irish men and women, without burning to end it, is, in my opinion, a fraud and a liar in his heart, no matter how he loves that combination of chemical elements, he is pleased to call Ireland.58
Scientific Socialism is based upon the truth incorporated in this proposition of Karl Marx, that “the economic dependence of the workers on the monopolists of the means of production is the foundation of slavery in all its forms, the cause of nearly all social misery, modern crime, mental degradation, and political dependence.”59
We mean to be free, and in every enemy of tyranny we recognise a brother, wherever be his birthplace; in every enemy of freedom, we also recognise our enemy, though he were as Irish as our hills. The whole of Ireland for the people of Ireland—their public property, to be owned and operated as a national heritage, by the labour of free men in a free country.60
But whilst refusing to base our political action on hereditary national antipathy, and wishing rather comradeship with the English workers than to regard them with hatred, we desire with our precursors the United Irishmen of 1798 that our animosities be buried with the bones of our ancestors—there is not a party in Ireland which accentuated more as a vital principle of its political faith the need of separating Ireland from England and of making it absolutely independent. In the eyes of the ignorant and of the unreflecting this appears as inconsistency, but I am persuaded that our Socialist brothers in France will immediately recognise the justice of the reasoning upon which such a policy is based.61
For us and ours the path is clear. The first duty of the working class of the world is to settle accounts with the master class of the world—that of their own country at the head of the list. To that point this struggle [the Dublin Lock-Out], as all other struggles, is converging.62
Under Socialism all will enjoy a full, free, and abundant life, with every possibility and appliance provided them to serve well their fellows.63

3.4  Labour as subject of history

It is a common feature of all forms of humanism to have the category of subject at the centre, the human being as agent of its own life and becoming “man as the highest being for man” (Marx), man “as a process of his own actions” (Gramsci). What occupies this central role in Marxist humanism is not the “abstract man” of traditional humanism but living human beings, concrete individuals in concrete situations. On the basis of the quotations given in the last section, there cannot be any doubt that this fully applies to Connolly. His Labour in Irish History was supposed to counteract traditional historiography, “which has ever been written by the master class—in the interest of the master class,” by writing a history from the perspective and in the interest of the “labouring people”—“the wrongs and struggles of the labouring people, constituting, as they have ever done, the vast mass of mankind,”64 an exact definition of labour as the subject of history. “Only the working class,” he writes at the end of his foreword, “remain as the incorruptible inheritors of the fight for freedom in Ireland”65; “the working class: the inheritors of the Irish ideals of the past—the repository of the hopes of the future”66; “to that unconquered Irish working class this book is dedicated by one of their number.”67 The working class, for Connolly, is clearly the “maker” of history (he stands at the opposite pole to the structuralist concept of history).
The working class of the world, by their keenness of mind and their strength of body, have made everything in the world their own—its land, its factories, its ships, its railroads, its houses, everything on earth and sea has been consecrated by the labour of the working class, and therefore belongs to that class; and as factories, ships, railroads and buildings cannot be divided up in pieces, they must be owned in common.68
      Connolly was one of the first Marxists to overcome the traditional male-oriented concept of the subject of history: the subject as agent for him clearly incorporates women, it is made up of men and women alike. In “The Irish masses in history” he writes:
What a history that would be which would tell us the history of the real women of Ireland—the women of the people! What a record of ceaseless suffering, of heroism, of martyrdom! What a recital of patient toil, of uncomplaining self-sacrifice, of unending abnegation! Aye, and what a brilliant tale of things accomplished, of deeds done, of miracles achieved!69
Those Irish girls who in the recent dock strike in Belfast joined their fathers and brothers and sweethearts in the streets to battle against the English troops imported in the interests of Irish capitalism are to my mind a thousand times more admirable “types of Irish colleens” than the noblest bean uasal of Gaelic Erin much as I admire the latter.70
What Connolly had in mind can aptly be conceptualised under the heading of second culture.

3.5  The theory of the two cultures

It was Lenin who, in his article “Critical observations on the national question” (1913), recognised the existence of “two national cultures in every modern nation”: the ruling first culture, which normally dominates the ideas and indeed the whole way of life of the people in these nations, and elements of a second culture, democratic and socialist, a culture which is the result of the struggle and the experience of labouring masses, a culture of resistance, formulating the ideals and aspirations of the people, finding expression in innumerable modes of life. Lenin clearly states that the “conditions of life of the labouring and exploited masses in every nation . . . create a democratic and socialist ideology,” which opposes the “reactionary” ideology of the ruling first culture.71 What Lenin had in mind, in fact, were ideological relations within the sphere of culture (and culture, in the present context, I use in the broad sense of “a whole way of life”), and he conceived of these ideological relations in terms of two opposing ideological forces which, in their continuous confrontation, constitute an essential dimension (or “level”) of the class struggle.
      Second culture, though growing out of different national experiences, possesses a transnational dimension: it is part of the “international culture of democracy and the labour movement.” It arises out of the living conditions of the labouring and exploited masses, and these conditions are essentially the same in all countries with a similar or identical economic formation. The content of the second culture, therefore, possesses characteristics of universal significance; it transcends regional and national limitations because it is based on an identical experience. What lies at its heart is human self-realisation as the basic cultural force, underlying all modes of cultural experience and all forms of resistance to the mechanics of oppression—human self-realisation as the real foundation on which the fabric of culture is built.
      Lenin, when formulating his ideas of the two cultures, drew on the experiences of the exploited masses, which are as old as the history of class societies. These experiences found their first expression in artistic and literary modes, not only in the plebeian traditions but also in those of classical European literature. The idea of the two cultures was first theoretically formulated in the period of the Industrial Revolution, when the two major classes of modern society emerged, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The existence of the two cultures was then recognised from a humanitarian or “philanthropic” point of view: in the Romantic cultural criticism of Thomas Carlyle, in the “reformist” social novel in England, particularly in Dickens’s Hard Times, Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, and Benjamin Disraeli’s Sybil, or The Two Nations, where the concept of the two classes of “the rich and the poor” as two nations is used for the first time:
Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy, who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets, who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws . . . The Rich and the Poor.
      The first theoretical formulation of the two cultures problematic from a socialist point of view is found in Friedrich Engels’s Condition of the Working Class in England, where Engels gives a relatively detailed model of the development of a second culture (although he does not use the term). He defines this culture as a culture of resistance through which the oppressed masses affirm their humanity. For Engels, the first and fundamental form of the second culture is the labour movement itself. He traces its development from the “first, rawest and most unproductive form” of resistance, crime, to the economic and political organisation of the class and interprets the various forms of the labour movement as modes of resistance and insurrection of the working class against the bourgeoisie. He also recognised the internationalist character of this second culture of rebellion.
      Engels’s Condition of the Working Class in England does not contain history of a proletarian second culture. Engels defines some of the essential criteria of such a culture and describes some of its basic forms. The first attempt to outline a proper history of a national second culture was, if I am not mistaken, made by James Connolly when he wrote his Labour in Irish History in 1910. Three years before the “Critical observations,” Connolly gives a view of Irish history in which all essential components of Lenin’s concept of the two cultures are employed: that of ideological relations (second culture as a culture of resistance to a dominating first culture), that of the ideological content of second culture (democratic and socialist), that of internationalism. Connolly writes a history of democratic and socialist ideology in Ireland as a form of anti-colonial and class struggle and as a continuous affirmation of the humanity of the suppressed classes. It is a history that includes the peasant rebellions and popular movements of unrest in the eighteenth century, the revolutionary republicanism of the United Irishmen of 1798 (they are seen as “democrats and internationalists”), the utopian socialism of William Thompson (“a forerunner of Marx”), the democratic and socialist tendencies within the Young Ireland movement around 1848 (particularly James Fintan Lalor), the emerging labour movement, and the formation of a revolutionary proletariat under the theoretical guidance of scientific socialism: “The Working Class: the Inheritors of the Irish Ideals of the Past—the Repository of the Hopes of the Future.”
      Connolly and Lenin clearly concur on theoretical principles, but in Connolly’s account an experience different from that of Lenin and the Russian working class comes to the foreground: the experience of a colonially suppressed people—Ireland being England’s first and oldest colony. Consequently, Connolly attributes a greater significance to the factor of national liberation—much more so than Lenin could have done although, again, in fundamental agreement with him. For Connolly, the culture of the national liberation struggle is the first historic expression of a second culture in Ireland. He clearly recognises the fundamental importance for a colonially suppressed people of the issue of national identity and conceives national liberation to be part of the fight for socialism in Ireland. “Only the working class,” he asserts, “remains as the incorruptible inheritor of the fight for freedom in Ireland.”

3.6  Marxism and democracy

In Marx’s thinking it was a matter of course that socialism is essentially democratic, as it was a matter of course that capitalism is, at best, democratic only in a formal sense—if democratic at all. If democracy (from the Greek dēmokratia) means the rule of the dēmos, i.e. the people—“a state or community in which the power of government resides in or is exercised by the people” (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary)—then Marxism is democratic by definition, because its central concern is the establishment of a society in which such power is exercised. It holds, however, that the exercise of such power is only possible on the basis of the ownership of the means of production by the people as well. Economic power is the indispensable condition of political power. In this sense, socialist democracy is opposed to—and goes beyond—bourgeois democracy. In fact the Marxist idea of democracy transcends the exercise of political power, as it extends into the realms of social, cultural and ideological relations: its content is full human emancipation and self-development. In this sense, the idea of democracy links up with the essential concern of Marxist humanism.
      It is my conviction that Connolly’s views on socialism and democracy are in essence identical with this broad idea of socialist democracy. “A Socialist Republic,” he wrote in the Workers’ Republic of 27 August 1898, “is the application to agriculture and industry, to the farm, the field, the workshop of the democratic principle, of the republican idea.”72 And again in the same paper for 10 June 1899:
State ownership and control is not necessarily Socialism—if it were, then the Army, the Navy, the Police, the Judges, the Gaolers, the Informers, and the Hangmen would all be Socialist Functionaries, as they are all State officials—but the ownership by the State of all the land and materials for labour, combined with the co-operative control by the workers of such land and materials would be Socialism.73
Democracy, for Connolly, is clearly connected with the sovereign state as the political form in which such power is exercised. Thus, he links the struggle for socialist democracy with the struggle for national independence—a highly logical and necessary move, not a mere tactical accommodation. The priority, however, lies with the gaining of control over the means of production: democratic public ownership.
The struggle for Irish freedom has two aspects: it is national and it is social. Its national ideal can never be realised until Ireland stands forth before the world a nation free and independent. It is social and economic, because no matter what the form of government may be, as long as one class owns as their private property the land and instruments of labour, from which all mankind derive their substance, that class will always have it in their power to plunder and enslave the remainder of their fellow creatures.74
Closely connected with the concept of a democratic society is the idea of equal rights. For Connolly this idea is not merely, as in bourgeois thinking, one of formal (legal, political) equality but one of material equality. On the “socialist idea of equality” he writes:
Like the trade unionist our demand is for a level below which no man shall be driven, a common basis of equality of opportunity to all. That whatever promotion, distinction, reward or honour be given to or attained by a man shall not confer upon him the right to exploit, to degrade, to dominate, to rob or humiliate his fellows.75

3.7  Marxism and enlightenment: The United Irishmen

The relationship of socialism to the Enlightenment is one of the most urgent problems of contemporary Marxist theory, insofar as much supposed “radical” modern thinking (so-called post-structuralism, especially Michel Foucault) has discovered the Enlightenment as the main enemy of progress and made it the culprit of oppression. In my view there is no such thing as genuine socialism without the ingredient of a radical enlightenment and the incorporation of the Enlightenment tradition, transformed and re-articulated, of course, according to our situation and our needs, and to the criteria of a contemporary Marxism.
      It is clear to me that this view was shared by Connolly. This is brought out by his high regard for the United Irishmen as the vanguard of revolutionary enlightenment in Ireland—a point of high originality and lasting significance in Connolly’s thought, because at the time he wrote it was not a generally shared belief among socialists to see socialism in continuity with any form of Enlightenment thinking. Connolly’s intervention in this question marks a vital and enduring contribution to integrative Marxism.
      Connolly clearly sees the connection between socialism and the United Irishmen. Referring to their Manifesto, he states:
It would be hard to find in modern Socialist literature anything more broadly International in its scope and aims, more definitely of a class character in its methods, or more avowedly democratic in its nature than this manifesto, yet, although it reveals the inspiration and methods of a revolutionist acknowledged to be the most successful organiser of revolt in Ireland since the days of Rory O’More, all his present-day professed followers constantly trample upon and repudiate every one of these principles, and reject them as a possible guide to their political activity. The Irish Socialist alone is in line with the thought of this revolutionary apostle of the United Irishmen.76
Socialism, for Connolly, clearly incorporates a form of enlightenment; it is, in a sense, a “second Enlightenment.” He uses the underlying metaphor of the term “enlightenment” in the final sentence of his chapter on William Thompson in Labour in Irish History:
Fervent Celtic enthusiasts are fond of claiming, and the researches of our days seem to bear out the claim, that Irish missionaries were the first to rekindle the lamp of learning in Europe, and dispel the intellectual darkness following the downfall of the Roman Empire; may we not also take pride in the fact that an Irishman was the first to pierce the worse than Egyptian darkness of capitalist barbarism, and to point out to the toilers the conditions of their enslavement, and the essential pre-requisites of their emancipation?77

3.8  The sexual question: Women’s emancipation and the equality of the sexes

Part and parcel of the socialist programme of emancipation is the full emancipation of women, as an integral and essential dimension of the full emancipation of humans—an emancipation, one might say, which concerns both sexes alike. This clearly is, or should be, Marxist common sense—though, in the history of Marxist theory, the importance of this issue has frequently been ignored. (The reluctance to accept the gender question as a key issue belongs to the negative list in the history of Marxism.) In many ways the early socialists were more advanced in their views on this issue than many later socialists were. It is certainly to Connolly’s credit that he recognised the full weight of this problem. He refers praisingly to William Thompson’s Appeal of One Half the Human Race, Women, Against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men, to Retain Them in Political, and Thence in Civil and Domestic, Slavery (1825) and has movingly written on the common women of Ireland and their role in history (in the chapter entitled “Woman” in The Re-Conquest of Ireland). As this is perhaps one of the less-known aspects of his thought, I wish to quote more extensively.
In Ireland the women’s cause is felt by all Labour men and women as their cause; the Labour cause has no more earnest and whole-hearted supporters than the militant women. Rebellion, even in thought, produces a mental atmosphere of its own; the mental atmosphere the women’s rebellion produced, opened their eyes and trained their minds to an understanding of the effects upon their sex of a social system in which the weakest must inevitably go to the wall, and when a further study of the capitalist system taught them that the term “the weakest” means in practice the most scrupulous, the gentlest, the most humane, the most loving and compassionate, the most honourable, and the most sympathetic, then the militant women could not fail to see, that capitalism penalised in human beings just those characteristics of which women supposed themselves to be the most complete embodiment. Thus the spread of industrialism makes for the awakening of a social consciousness, awakes in women a feeling of self-pity as the greatest sufferers under social and political injustice; the divine wrath aroused when that self-pity is met with a sneer, and justice is denied, leads women to revolt, and revolt places women in comradeship and equality with all the finer souls whose life is given to warfare against established iniquities.
            The worker is the slave of capitalist society, the female worker is the slave of that slave.78
In Ireland the soul of womanhood has been trained for centuries to surrender its rights, and as a consequence the race has lost its chief capacity to withstand assaults from without, and demoralisation from within. Those who preached to Irish womankind fidelity to duty as the only ideal to be striven after, were, consciously or unconsciously, fashioning a slave mentality, which the Irish mothers had perforce to transmit to the Irish child.
      The militant women who, without abandoning their fidelity to duty, are yet teaching their sisters to assert their rights, are re-establishing a sane and perfect balance that makes more possible a well-ordered Irish nation.79
      These texts belong to the best Connolly has written, in fact to the best in socialist theoretical literature. They are remarkable in more than one way. They throw light on and elaborate a number of the key concepts of advanced Marxist theory. They elucidate the concept of the subject of historical progress and human emancipation. They demonstrate what is meant by the collective empirical subject of social action. Furthermore, they movingly illustrate the complex process of acquiring consciousness of gender, as well as class, through concrete experience.

3.9  The national question, anti-colonialism, and the idea of a free nation

Connolly’s contribution to a Marxist theory of the nation and the national question is perhaps his most original and far-reaching contribution to an integrative Marxism.80 The reason for this lies in the very particular historical situation in which he worked and wrote: he worked and wrote in a colonial country with strong anti-colonial traditions and as a Marxist confronted with a non-Marxist, in fact a bourgeois, national liberation movement. As much has been written on Connolly’s views on the national question, it will hardly be necessary to summarise these views in any detail;81 this would mean to carry owls to Athens, as the Germans say. What I wish to do is to point out those aspects in these views which contain the most significant contribution to an international debate.
      1. Connolly recognised with great clarity the dialectics of the national and the social question in the process of Irish emancipation—and this fully applies to nations which are or were in a similar situation to that of Ireland. In such countries a socialist revolution is possible only on the condition of national independence. Full national emancipation (which the republican idea envisages) is possible only on the basis of the emancipation and actual freedom of the whole of the people, not on the basis of class subjugation.82 Mere national independence, without economic independence (which entails a radical transformation of the relations of ownership of the means of production) and full cultural emancipation—of nationalism without socialism—for him meant “national recreancy,”83 i.e. surrender, a betrayal of duty. In this sense one could say—and here Connolly stayed consistent throughout his writing84—that socialism for him was the broader concept, in its full sense embracing national independence and the republican idea. “The struggle for Irish freedom has two aspects,” he declares in Labour in Irish History,
it is national and it is social. Its national ideal can never be realised until Ireland stands forth before the world a nation free and independent. It is social and economic, because no matter what form of government may be, as long as one class owns as their private property the land and instruments of labour, from which all mankind derive their substance, that class will always have it in their power to plunder and enslave the remainder of their fellow creatures.85
. . . The Republic I would wish our fellow-countrymen to set before them as their ideal would be of such a character that the mere mention of its name would at all times serve as a beacon-light to the oppressed of every land, at all times holding forth promise of freedom and plenteousness as the reward of their efforts on its behalf . . . In fact to every one of the toiling millions upon whose misery the outwardly splendid fabric of our modern civilisation is reared, the Irish Republic might be made a word to conjure with—a rallying point for the disaffected, a haven for the oppressed, a point of departure of the Socialist, enthusiastic in the cause of human freedom.86
      2. Connolly was the first, apart from Lenin,87 who, within Marxism, understood fully and gave theoretical expression to the role of the suppressed nations in the epoch of imperialism and their right to self-determination.
      3. Connolly’s idea of a free nation embraces all aspects of this nation—the economic, the political and the cultural, the entire ownership of Ireland, moral and material, in James Fintan Lalor’s sense—though he clearly gives priority to political control and economic autonomy. In “What is a free nation?” he names as basic essentials of a free nation “absolute control over all its own internal resource and powers,” “complete control over its own harbours,” “full power to industries,” full power to alter property rights.88 For Connolly, as for all genuine Marxist thinking, the idea of national autonomy in no sense contradicts an internationalist orientation: it is in fact one of its conditions. The idea of national autonomy opposes all attempts to incorporate individual nations into a transnational superstate in which the small nations are dominated by the big ones; it proposes a free federation of free peoples, co-operating on the basis of equality (the original idea behind the “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” before it became a Stalinist superstate). Connolly is quite explicit on this point. During his controversy with William Walker in the Glasgow Forward (May–June 1911) he declared: “The internationalism of the future will be based upon the free federation of free peoples and cannot be realised through the subjugation of the smaller by the larger political unit.”89

3.10  The concept of alliance

The problem of alliance is a key political problem for the future of socialism, as the experience of a whole century of “extremes” (Eric Hobsbawm) has taught us that the road to socialism, internationally and nationally, if ever there is one, will only be opened up on the ground of a broad alliance of anti-capitalist forces. The illusion that the working class can do it alone has irrevocably gone. “Achieve unity”90 is the motto for the present and the future alike. Connolly discusses the problem of alliance on four levels: (1) as the alliance of socialism and republicanism; (2) as the alliance of different forms of socialism; (3) as the alliance of the Protestant and Catholic working class (the unity of the working class as the basic component of the road to socialism); (4) as the alliance of workers and intellectuals.
Out of that experience [the sympathetic strike] is growing the feeling of identity of interests between the forces of real nationalism and labour which I have long worked and hoped for in Ireland. Labour recognises daily more clearly that its real well-being is linked and bound up with the hope of growth of Irish resources within Ireland, and nationalists realise that the real progress of a nation towards freedom must be measured by the progress of its most subject class.91
Now the problem is to find a basis of union on which all these sections who owe allegiance to one or other conception of Socialism may unite. My proposition is that this union, or rapprochement, cannot be arrived at by discussing our differences. Let us rather find out and unite upon the things upon which we agree. Once we get together, we will find that our differences are not so insuperable as they appear whilst we are separated. What is necessary first is a simple platform around which to gather, with the understanding that as much as possible shall be left to future conditions to dictate and as little as possible settled now by rules or theories. As each section has complete confidence in their own doctrines, let them show their confidence by entering an organisation with those who differ from them in methods, and depend upon the development of events to prove the correctness of their position. Each person to have complete freedom of speech in conformity with the common object; the lecture platform to be common to all, and every lecture to be followed by questions and discussion. With mutual toleration on both sides, the Protestant worker may learn that the co-operation of the Catholic who works, suffers, votes and fights alongside him is more immediately vital to his cause and victory day by day than the co-operation of workers on the other side of the Channel; and that Socialists outside Ireland are all in favour of that national independence which he rejects for the sake of a few worthless votes.92

3.11  Marxism and religious belief: A pragmatic model

Connolly’s stance on religion was, for good reasons, pragmatic. For him, atheism was not a matter of principle. He clearly shared Marx’s view that religion (along with the arts, the legal system, educational ideas, philosophy) is an ideological form (a form of institutionalised consciousness—not merely “false consciousness”) containing “true” and “false” components and performing different functions in different situations. Religion, as any other ideological form, has therefore to be judged according to its actual function at a given historical moment and its role in the actual political struggle. In this context, the distinction between established church and individual religious belief was of primary importance for Connolly. In Labour, Nationality and Religion he severely criticises the Catholic Church as the incorporation of the alliance of Mammon and God and the role it played (as servant of the coloniser) in Irish history since the conquest. On the other hand he defends a Christian socialist, Patrick J. Cooney, who “is an active Catholic and at the same time a militant socialist,” against the “blatant and rude atheism of some of the irresponsible advocates of socialism.”93 Here Connolly is refreshingly anti-dogmatic. He obviously recognised that mere atheism is simply inverted theology and that Marxism in principle is a non-theological and non-metaphysical conception of the world, with the clear recognition of the limitations of human knowledge and cognition, of the restriction of this knowledge to this-worldly experience. “We were not and are not the repositories of all truth,”94 he declares; and, I wish to add, Thank God, we never will be.

3.12  Capitalism, colonialism, and war

Connolly had not the least illusion as to the nature of capitalism. The capitalist class he regarded as a “robber class, conceived in sin and begotten in iniquity.”95 Capitalism, as a system, is barbaric in its very nature, because it is based on the principles of exploitation, domination and power, directed against humans and natural resources alike. He would undoubtedly have subscribed to Rosa Luxemburg’s dictum “Socialism or downfall into barbarism” if he had known it. He clearly saw the link between capitalism and war, as he recognised capitalism as the main driving force behind colonialism. For this reason his position was radically anti-reformist. A compromise of socialism with capitalism he considered ruinous. “The capitalist class,” he writes in an article on the South African War of 1899–1902, “is a beast of prey, and cannot be moralised, converted, and conciliated, but must be extirpated.”96 And in “The roots of modern war” he explains:
The influence which impels towards war today is the influence of capitalism. Every war now is a capitalist move for new markets, and it is a move capitalism must make or perish. The mad scramble for wealth which this century has witnessed, has resulted in lifting almost every European country into the circle of competition for trade. New machinery, new inventions, new discoveries in the scientific world have all been laid under contribution as aids to industry, until the wealth-producing powers of society at large have far outstripped the demand for goods, and now those very powers we have conjured up from the bosom of nature threaten to turn and rend us . . . Every new labour-saving machine at one and the same time, by reducing the number of workers needed, reduces the demand for goods which the worker cannot buy, while increasing the power of producing goods, and thus permanently increases the number of unemployed, and shortens the period of industrial prosperity. Competition between capitalists drives them to seek for newer and more efficient wealth-producing machines, but as the home market is now no longer able to dispose of their produce they are driven to foreign markets . . . So it is in China today. The great industrial nations of the world, driven on by their respective moneyed classes, themselves driven on by their own machinery, now front each other in the far East, and, with swords in hand, threaten to set the armed millions of Europe in terrible and bloody conflict, in order to decide which shall have the right to force upon John Chinaman the goods which his European brother produces, but may not enjoy. Laveleye says somewhere that capitalism came into the world covered with blood, tears and dirt. We might add that if this war cloud now gathering in the East, does burst, as it will be the last capitalist war, so the death of that baneful institution will be like its birth, bloody, muddy and ignominious.97

4  Connolly's historical position: A summarising perspective

Connolly’s position as a socialist theoretician and a political activist cannot be adequately assessed in an Irish context alone. His theoretical achievement clearly places him in much broader surroundings—that of an international development of Marxist theory. Similarly, his politics, up to and including his participation in the Easter Rising, are part and parcel of European and, in a specific sense, world history. Both in theory and practice, James Connolly occupies a firm place in what Ernst Bloch terms the front line of the historical process.
      Connolly’s historical position is marked by the fact that he stands at the beginning of a historical configuration which emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century and determined a large part of it, which in fact shaped the course of modern history, at least up to the Second World War. What I mean is the fundamental crisis which shook and eventually shattered the traditional bourgeois world, resulting from the enormous structural transformation of the capitalist mode of production which marks the advance of imperialism—imperialism as the most developed stage of capitalism, as a period of wars and revolution (Lenin). The first half of the last century might, with some justification, be termed an age of crisis. Generally speaking, it is the historical period before imperialism managed to consolidate itself. (This happened in the second part of the last century as a result of the Cold War confrontation, with the breakdown of the largest part of the socialist world). The age of crisis was, particularly in its early stages, a period of social revolution in Marx’s sense—a historical period which bore in itself the potential of a transformation of the whole fabric of society. In a number of European countries, situations of such revolutionary potential emerged—and in each for very particular historical reasons. Ireland was one of them, and Ireland was the first. Russia, Germany, Austria and Italy followed; Spain with a certain amount of time shift. In all these countries, with the exception of Russia, where the revolution was successful, a certain historical pattern is discernible.
      The attempts to open up roads leading to socialism failed. In fact, they failed physically. They were crushed with the utmost brutality, their leaders killed, liquidated, executed. In a situation of crisis, and faced with the possibility of collapse, capitalism cynically suspended all appearance of legality and rights, even where it did not resort to its most extreme measure, the “fascist solution.” The pattern was always the same: to suspend the rule of law as the constitutional ground of the bourgeois state and replace it with the rule of physical force—with some form of military power. This still applied, at a much later stage, to the Chilean revolution. There cannot be the least doubt that Connolly was brutally murdered by an imperialist war machine—in the same way as Luxemburg, Liebknecht, Allende and many named and nameless others were murdered. (Gramsci died in a fascist prison.) It remains a harsh and painful fact that in the last century some of the best—perhaps most of the best—leaders of the socialist revolution were slaughtered by the forces of reaction, and this is certainly one of the reasons for the failure of socialism in our time. The memory of these men and women, however, remains as an enduring legacy for generations to come.


      Althusser, Louis, and Balibar, Étienne, Das Kapital Lesen, I (Reinbek, 1972).
      Brecht, Bertolt, Gesammelte Werke (Frankfurt am Main, 1967). (The translations are by Thomas Metscher.)
      Connolly, James, Socialism and Nationalism (Dublin, 1948).
      Connolly, James, Labour and Easter Week (Dublin, 1949).
      Connolly, James, Labour in Ireland (Dublin, n.d.).
      Connolly, James, The Workers’ Republic (Dublin, 1951).
      Gramsci, Antonio, in Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (eds.), Selections from the Prison Notebooks (London, 1971).
      Lenin, V. I., Werke (Berlin, 1961). (The translations are by Thomas Metscher.)
      Marx, Karl, and Engels, Friedrich, Werke (MEW) (1970).
      Metscher, Priscilla, Republicanism and Socialism in Ireland: A Study of the Relationship of Politics and Ideology from the United Irishmen to James Connolly (Frankfurt am Main, 1986).
      Metscher, Priscilla, James Connolly and the Re-Conquest of Ireland (Minneapolis, forthcoming).
      Metscher, Thomas, “Brecht and Marxist Dialectics,” in Oxford German Studies, vol. 6, 1971–72, p. 132–144.
      Metscher, Thomas, Pariser Meditationen: Zu einer Ästhetik der Befreiung (Wien, 1992).
      Thompson, E. P., The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays (London, 1978).


      1. Marx, “Ökonomisch-philosophische Manuskripte,” in MEW, Ergänzungsband I, p. 566.
      2. Op. cit., p. 565.
      3. Op. cit., p. 513.
      4. Op. cit., p. 514ff.
      5. For a more detailed discussion of this problem see Thomas Metscher, Pariser Meditationen, p. 303–312, 333–378.
      6. Gramsci, Prison Notebooks (1971), p. 324.
      7. MEW, vol. 3, p. 7.
      8. “German Ideology,” in MEW, vol. 3, p. 20.
      9. “Theses on Feuerbach,” in MEW, vol. 3, p. 5ff.
      10. MEW, vol. 23, p. 192ff.
      11. The passage also contains the elements of a materialist theory of culture—culture understood as the act of human self-production, the constitution of a “second world” in the “first” world of nature. In the interaction between man and nature, Marx contends, man not only transforms the external world but transforms his own nature: he develops his inherent “slumbering” potentials. This idea of self-development is at the heart of the materialist concept of culture.
      12. “Theses on Feuerbach,” in MEW, vol. 3, p. 5.
      13. cf. MEW, vol. 3, p. 20.
      14. “Economic-philosophical manuscripts,” op. cit., p. 536.
      15. Op. cit., p. 546.
      16. Op. cit., p. 351.
      17. Gramsci, “Il materialismo storico e la filosofia di Benedetto Croce,” quoted in Althusser and Balibar (1972), p. 168.
      18. The term “dialectics” extends to the pre-human sphere of the natural world (to organic and inorganic being). In this sense, as dialectics of nature, it is an ontological category as well as an anthropological and historical one. This problem, however, cannot be followed up in this paper.
      19. MEW, vol. 13, p. 9.
      20. “Communist Manifesto,” in MEW, vol. 4, p. 462.
      21. Brecht, Werke, vol. xx, p. 71.
      22. Hegel in Bertolt-Brecht-Archiv, quoted from Ernst Schumacher, Drama und Geschichte (Berlin, 1965), p. 67.
      23. Loc. cit.
      24. Werke, vol. 20, p. 71.
      25. Brecht.
      26. For Brecht, thinking—or, more generally speaking, consciousness—is, in one of its most essential dimensions, anticipation. (See Thomas Metscher’s essay “Brecht and Marxist Dialectics,” p. 138ff.)
      27. Life of Galileo.
      28. MEW, vol. 1, p. 385.
      29. Op. cit., p. 7.
      30. Op. cit., p. 379.
      31. Loc. cit.
      32. See “Capital,” in MEW, vol. 3, and Karl Marx, “Ökonomische Manuskripte, 1863–1867,” Teil 2, in MEGA 11, 4.2 (Berlin, 1993), p. 838.
      33. MEW, vol. 4, p. 482.
      34. Op. cit., vol. 23, p. 618.
      35. Op. cit., vol. 42, p. 91.
      36. Op. cit., vol. 3, p. 6.
      37. Antonio Gramsci. Marx himself makes use of the term “humanism” in his definition of communism in the Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts.
      38. Louis Althusser.
      39. MEW, vol. 4, p. 461.
      40. cf. Gramsci.
      41. This is a question of considerable significance, on which little work has been done. The author has dealt with it in his Pariser Meditationen.
      42. Op. cit.
      43. Other classic examples are Marx’s critique of idealism (notably Hegel) and materialism (notably Feuerbach) in the early writings; Lenin’s critique of Hegel (in the Philosophical Notebooks); and Gramsci’s critique of Croce.
      44. Compare Marx’s and Lenin’s critiques of Hegel, the whole gist of them being not the “deconstruction” of the Hegelian system but its reconstruction with regard to the discovery of its true elements (i.e. dialectics). To do this, “deconstruction” is but the first step; for dialectical thinking it can never be an end in itself.
      45. E. P. Thompson’s devastating critique of Althusser and his school in The Poverty of Theory (a true deconstruction if ever there was one) has lost none of its power of conviction since its first publication over twenty years ago.
      46. Gramsci distinguishes between intellectuals by social function: “traditional” professional intellectuals, such as teachers, lawyers, etc., and “organic intellectuals,” the thinking and organising element of a particular fundamental social class. These organic intellectuals are distinguished less by their profession, which may be any job characteristic of their class, than by their function in directing the ideas and aspirations of the class to which they organically belong (cf. Hoare and Nowell Smith in Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, p. 3).
      47. Hoare and Nowell Smith, Introduction, Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, p. 4.
      48. Gramsci, op. cit., p. 340.
      49. Connolly, Labour in Ireland, p. xiii.
      50. Loc. cit.
      51. Most of the points mentioned are discussed at length in Priscilla Metscher’s forthcoming book, James Connolly and the Re-Conquest of Ireland.
      52. Labour in Ireland, p. 20.
      53. Loc. cit.
      54. Connolly, The Workers’ Republic, p. 207–208.
      55. Labour in Ireland, p. 167–168.
      56. Op. cit., p. 207.
      57. Op. cit., p. 96.
      58. Labour in Ireland, p. viii.
      59. Socialism and Nationalism (Dublin, 1948), p. 33.
      60. Op. cit., p. 32.
      61. Op. cit., p. 35.
      62. Op. cit., p. 37.
      63. The Workers’ Republic, p. 245.
      64. Labour in Ireland, p. 10.
      65. Op. cit., p. 9.
      66. Op. cit., p. 155.
      67. Op. cit., p. 9.
      68. The Workers’ Republic, p. 219–220.
      69. Socialism and Nationalism, p. 86.
      70. Op. cit., p. 86.
      71. Lenin, Werke, vol. 20, p. 8ff.
      72. Socialism and Nationalism, p. 10.
      73. Op. cit., p. 11.
      74. Loc. cit.
      75. The Workers’ Republic, p. 225.
      76. Labour in Ireland, p. 75–76.
      77. Op. cit., p. 98.
      78. Op. cit., p. 222–223.
      79. Op. cit., p. 224–225.
      80. The national question and the concept of the nation belong, at the time of writing, to the unsolved problems of Marxism on an international scale. Lenin’s and Connolly’s solutions have never been fully integrated into Marxist theory internationally, let alone applied (and accordingly modified) to different countries and historical situations. In Germany, for instance, the idea of the nation has been and still is a domain of conservative and right-wing (fascist and neo-fascist) thinking. The German left has never really taken up the battle on this terrain: it was surrendered without a stroke, as it were. The GDR was certainly an exception, and this is to its credit, as the attempt was made to establish a democratic and socialist national tradition (from the Peasant Wars to the present), though this hardly plays a part in present-day political or theoretical discourse. In the present situation, faced with the fact of the global domination of capital and the threat of an EU superstate to replace traditional sovereign nations, the urgency of dealing with the national question has certainly increased.
      81. For further reading see Priscilla Metscher, 1986 and forthcoming.
      82. He explicitly refers to James Fintan Lalor’s famous dictum which claims that “the entire ownership of Ireland—moral and material—is rested of right in the entire people of Ireland” as “motto” (it was adopted as such by the Irish Citizen Army) in an article on “Ireland and Ulster” (Socialism and Nationalism, p. 119).
      83. Socialism and Nationalism, p. 25.
      84. Cf. Ryan, Introduction to Socialism and Nationalism, p. 11.
      85. Op. cit., p. 11.
      86. Op. cit., p. 25.
      87. As it appears, neither knew of the other’s theories, but nonetheless they arrived at the same conclusion when faced with the same problem.
      88. Op. cit., p. 143ff.
      89. Socialism and Nationalism, p. 12.
      90. Peter Weiss, Aesthetics of Resistance.
      91. Labour and Easter Week (Dublin, 1966), p. 124.
      92. Socialism and Nationalism, p. 89–90.
      93. “Roman Catholicism and socialism,” in The Workers’ Republic, p. 56.
      94. Op. cit., p. 60.
      95. The Workers’ Republic, p. 203.
      96. Labour and Easter Week, p. 28.
      97. Labour and Easter Week, p. 25–26.

International Connolly Conference  >  Prof. Thomas Metscher