Jim “Big Jim Larkin, Irish folk here and historic leader of the Irish labor movement, was an ardent Marxist and socialist. The precepts laid out by Karl Marx were a natural fit for Larkin. His life’s work was dedicated to helping the people he loved: The working poor. Read more: James Larkin | Biography and James Larkin – Wikipedia
But as an Irish Catholic, Larkin was obliged to confront a significant problem in his embrace of socialism — the fact that it was a deeply atheistic philosophy. Karl Marx himself believed that world religions has conspired against the lower classes for centuries by encouraging them to accept their position in poverty as a proper “holy lifestyle.”
Marx is famous for having said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.”
But Jim Larkin held an unshakable loyalty to his faith and self identification as a Catholic. As such, he found it necessary to cobble together the precepts of “godless socialism” with “Christian Socialism” in a way that preserved the power of both.
Larkin handled this question deftly by frequently referring to Jesus as “The Carpenter,” with the obvious suggestion that Jesus, in fact, had been a working man. He also pointed out that Jesus was a passionate advocate for the poor — and a fierce critic of the wealthy, powerful elites of his day. Larkin sometimes cited Luke 6:20: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.”
Jim Larkin believed that there was a difference between being “poor in spirit” and poor in terms of material wealth. He clearly believed that “ordinary people” deserved good pay, to live in decent homes, to have days of rest and free time — and that living a basic, middle-class lifestyle was not contrary to the emphasis Catholicism placed on the spiritual value of being poor.
Larkin got support for this from Pope Gregory XVI. The Pontiff spoke out on the dire condition of working-class people in the emerging industrialized society, and this was a decade before Marx’s Communist Manifesto was published. Also, Pope Leo’s “Encyclical on the Condition of Labor” tackled the urgent need to address the growing problems of poor working class people grinding at the bottom of the Industrial Revolution.
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