James Connolly

Wages, Marriage and the Church



There is a tale told of an inmate of a lunatic asylum who was asked by a visitor to the institution how he came to be there. “Well,” he replied, “I thought the people outside were mad, and they thought I was mad. They were in the majority, and, here I am.” This tale often occurs to my mind when I run up against things in our movement contrary to my own views of Socialism and the essentials of Socialist propaganda. I find myself in complete accord with the S.L.P. (of which I am proud to be a member) on all questions of policy and of discipline and of revolutionary procedure. When it comes down to holding our position as against an opponent, no matter how well equipped, I am not aware of any case in any country in which the comrades found fault with my defence or attack, or my exposition of our principles. And yet I have found in the party, speakers and writers, and comrades who professed to be neither, who held and gave expression to views on policy, and conceptions of Socialism with which I would not for a moment agree. And the thought occurs to me: Which of us is mad? To settle this question, I am here setting down some of the points on which I find myself in disagreement with numbers of the comrades, and hope to see in The Weekly People – the only one of our organs available for me – an earnest discussion thereon.


Lately when reading the report of the meetings held by one of our organisers in the West, I discovered that in the course of a discussion with a spokesman of the Kangaroos [1], this comrade held that the workers could not even temporarily benefit by a rise in wages “as every rise in wages was offset by a rise in prices.” When the Kangaroo quoted from Marx’s Value, Price and Profit [2], to prove the contrary, our S.L.P. man airily disposed of Marx by saying that Marx wrote in advance of, and without anticipation of, the present day combinations of capital. I am afraid that that S.L.P. speaker knew little of Marx except his name, or he could not have made such a remark. The theory that a rise in prices always destroys the value of a rise in wages sound very revolutionary, of course, but it is not true. And, furthermore, it is no part of our doctrine. If it .were it knocks the feet from under the S.T. & L.A. [3] and renders that body little else than a mere ward-heeling club for the S.L.P. I am prepared to defend this point if any one considers me wrong upon it. It was one of the points in dispute between my opponents at the Schenectady meeting and myself. Until the party is a unit upon such points our propaganda in one place will nullify our propaganda in another.


Again, when touring this country in 1902, I met in Indianapolis an esteemed comrade who almost lost his temper with me because I expressed my belief in monogamic marriage, and because I said, as I still hold, that the tendency of civilisation is towards its perfection and completion, instead of towards its destruction. My comrade’s views, especially since the publication in The People of Bebel’s Women [4], are held by a very large number of members, but I hold, nevertheless, that they are wrong, and, furthermore, that such works and such publications are an excrescence upon the movement. The abolition of the capitalist system will, undoubtedly, solve the economic side of the Woman Question, but it will solve that alone. The question of marriage, of divorce, of paternity, of the equality of woman with man are physical and sexual questions, or questions of temperamental affiliation as in marriage, and were we living in a Socialist Republic would still be hotly contested as they are to-day. One great element of disagreement would be removed – the economic – but men and women would still be unfaithful to their vows, and questions of the intellectual equality of the sexes would still be as much in dispute as they are today, even although economic equality would be assured. To take a case in point: Suppose a man and woman married. The man after a few years ceases to love the woman, his wife, and loves another. But his wife's love for him has only increased with the passage of years, and she has borne him children. He wishes to leave her and consort with his new love. Will the fact that her economic future is secured be any solace to the deserted mother or to her children? Decidedly not! It is, a human and sexual problem, not an economic problem at all. Unjust economic conditions aggravate the evil, but do not create it. Comrade De Leon [5] says in his preface, which I have just seen, that Bebel’s Woman raises up for the proletaire, friends in the camp of the enemy. I consider that it is, on the contrary, an attempt to seduce the proletariat from the firm ground of political and economic science on to the questionable ground of physiology and sex. Instead of raising up friends in the camp of the enemy, it engenders the fatal habit of looking outside our own class for help to the members of a class – the "enemy" referred to – whose whole material interests are opposed to ours. In the days of battle will the claims of sex or the claims of their class weigh most with the ladies of the capitalist class? Bebel’s Woman is popular because of its quasi-prurient revelations of the past and present degradation of womanhood, but I question if you can find in the whole world one woman who was led to Socialism by it, but you can find hundreds who were repelled from studying Socialism by judicious extracts from its pages. I believe it is destined to be in the future a potent weapon against us in this country. And it is a weapon put into the enemy's hands without obtaining any corresponding advantage for our side. The valuable propaganda material in the book is absolutely nullified by its identification with a debatable physiological question on which the party as a whole has never been consulted, and could not be.

The Church

The attitude of the party toward religion is another one on which I believe there is a tendency at present to stray from the correct path. Theoretically every S.L.P. man agrees that Socialism is a political and economic question and has nothing to do with religion. But how many adhere to that position? Very few, indeed. It is scarcely possible to take up a copy of The Weekly People of late without realising from its contents that it and the party are becoming distinctly anti-religious. If a clergyman anywhere attacks Socialism the tendency is to hit back, not at his economic absurdities, but at his theology, with which-we have nothing to do. In other words, we occupy a strongly entrenched position based upon demonstrable facts. When a clergyman attacks this position our wisest course is to remain in our entrenchments and to allow him to waste his energy and demonstrate his ignorance by futile attacks upon our position. Instead of which, our comrades descend from their entrenchments and engage the enemy in combat over a question of the next world – a question that were we to argue for another century could not be proven or disproved on one side or the other. That is to say, we attack the enemy where he is strongest, and instead of relying upon appeals to the class interests of the workers we tangle their minds up in questions which even the trained intellect of scientists cannot solve. All of which must be very satisfactory to our enemies. The prominence given to the absurd article of M. Vandervelde [6] illustrates this clearly. Mr. Vandervelde is a middle class doctrinaire, who, on every question of tactics, has proven himself unsafe as a guide. His performances as an upholder of Millerand ought to be well known to readers of The People, his botchy handling of the late Universal Strike in Belguim, when he and his party sacrificed the interests of hundreds of poor working men and their families in order to "teach a lesson" to the amused capitalist government, is also well known. His general Kangarooism is recognised by every thinking student of the European Socialist movement, but, lo! he speaks against the Catholic Church, and presto, he is become an oracle. But I refuse to worship at this Delphic shrine, and I laugh at the words of the oracle. Indeed, those words contain their own refutation. They are not a reasoned appeal to the working class, but an appeal to the free-thinkers to look to the Socialists to fight their battles for them. That is the tenor of the whole article. See how tenderly he speaks of the English Liberals. “Justice forbids, however, to reproach English Liberalism as a body with the reactionary complaisance of the right wing.” We read how he approves of the sleek bourgeois governmental dodge to disorganise Socialist forces by the corruption of Millerand and Jaurès. For the extract in The People omits a word, which I will put in brackets, and which, whether in The Independent or not, obviously from the context ought to have been there: “The Republican middle class and the radical Democracy do (not) hesitate to accept the help of the Social Democracy in the fight against the Catholic Church by enrolling Millerand in the Ministry and electing Jaurès Vice President of the Chamber of Deputies.” To this doctrinaire the great struggle of the working class for freedom is but a kind of side show, or, perhaps, an auxiliary, to the free-thinking movement. The betrayal of the workers by his kind in France is justifiable in the exigencies of the free-thought campaign. His statement that he does “not know and cannot conceive of a free-thinking workingman who is not at the same time a Socialist,” only goes to show how little he knows about the working class. I am sure few readers of The People could echo his words. His whole soul is perturbed with the fear that when Socialism crushes out the free-thinking middle class, there will be nobody left to fight the Church unless Socialism kindly consents to become a catspaw for the propagandists of free-thought. How the capitalist editor of the English Freethinker, or the staunch Republican soul of Bob Ingersoll would rejoice to see us linking the propaganda of our knowledge with that of their speculations. We have seen how the freethinking capitalist governments of France knew how to utilise the anti-clerical Dreyfus agitation to corrupt our movement, we see to-day how a similar free-thinking administration in the same country initiates against religious orders a campaign which the Parti Ouvrier has seen fit to denounce as a mere bourgeois dodge to divert public attention from the social question, and if we but pause to think we will see in the anti-religious tone of our papers and speakers how the ground here is being unwittingly prepared for the same confusion and emasculation. I shall certainly do my share toward repelling every such tendency as strongly as I would fight to prevent the movement being identified even by implication with the tenets of the Catholic Church, or the Protestant, of the Shinto, or the Jew.

The S.L.P. is a political and economic party, seeking the conquest of public power in order to clear the way for the Social Revolution. Let it keep to that. It is a big enough proposition.

But I have said enough to arouse discussion, and will reserve further criticism to another time. I hold that mine is the correct S.L.P. doctrine. Now, will some one please tread on the tail of my coat?

Troy, N.Y., March 23.

The People, April 9, 1904.




1. KANGAROO – S.L.P. nickname for members of the Socialist Party of America which was founded in 1901 by a fusion of the Social Democratic Party and a large breakaway from the S.L.P.

2. Value, Price and Profit – text of a report delivered by Karl Marx at the meetings of the General Council of the First International in June 1865. In this report Marx set forth for the first time in public the basis of his theory of surplus value. It was directed against those who maintained that higher wages cannot improve the condition of the workers and that trade unions’ activity must be considered detrimental to their interests. First published as a pamphlet in London, 1898, by his daughter, Eleanor Marx Aveling, under the title Value, Price and Profit. Nowadays it is titled Wages, Price and Profit.

3. S.T. & L.A. – Socialist Trade and Labour Alliance, a trade union, established on industrial, not craft, lines and affiliated to the S.L.P.

4. Bebel, August (1840-1913) – a founder and prominent leader of the German Social-Democratic and international working class movement. Active opponent of revisionism and reformism in the German workers' movement in the 1890s and early 1900s.

5. DeLeon, Daniel (1852-1914) – leader of the American labour movement from the 1890s: leader and ideologist of the S.L.P.; editor of The People from 1892 until his death. One of the founders of the Industrial Workers of the World (1905).

6. Vandervelde, Emile (1866-1938) – leader of the Belgian Workers Party, chairman of the Second International Socialist Bureau. Entered the bourgeois government of Belgium during the First World War. Was hostile to the October Socialist Revolution and actively helped the armed intervention against Soviet Russia.


Last updated on 12.9.2003