A portrait of the artist as a lefty
Whilst I find the details of Joyce's political opinions and writings interesting, they are not the main reason I would claim him as a man of the left. Like most writers, Joyce was always more interested in literature than politics, and it is in the form and themes of his literary writing that we must locate the essence of his worldview. I think that Joyce's great achievement was not to be a supporter of Irish independence and a few other progressive causes, but to be a modernist and a populist at the same time (and if you think that such a combination wasn't so difficult, try taking a look at the work of Joyce's peers TS Eliot and Wyndham Lewis, not to mention dozens of other modernists!). It is a pleasure, then, to see The Tomb dwelling on the implicitly political aspects of Joyce's creative writing.
Joyce's writing was highly innovative, and works like Ulysses remains initially challenging reads today, but this difficulty is leavened by Joyce's belief in the mystery and beauty of the everyday lives of ordinary human beings. Joyce despised the elitism of the bourgeois high culture of his day, with its assumption that nobody who made less than three hundred pounds a year ever had a thought or feeling worth recording. The stream of consciousness technique that Joyce made famous in his first novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, is the embodiment of his repudiation of highbrow snobbery: by entering directly into the heads of his characters, and showing everything that they think and feel, no matter how apparently trivial or tawdry, Joyce breaks through the barriers that held back a Victorian novelist of manners.
Joyce was much happier in a down-to-earth boozer than a literary salon, and most of the important characters in his writings are the type of people you'd be more likely to find in a boozer than a salon. Although he was an Irish nationalist Joyce disliked national chauvinism in all its forms, and his decision to make one of the main characters of Ulysses Jewish reflects his commitment to an outward-looking, inclusive model of Irish identity.
The Tomb's post on Joyce is followed by a long and rather bewildering comments thread, which culminates in a heated discussion of the merits of the music of Frank Zappa. Before that rather dismal endpoint has been reached, though, a couple of commenters mention The Intellectuals and the Masses, the wild and wildly controversial attack on some of the leading figures of the modernist movement which John Carey published a decade ago.
Carey argues convincingly that the likes of Virginia Woolf and TS Eliot were incurable snobs with ultra-reactionary politics, but he flounders badly when he tries to net Joyce with his simplistic generalisations about the modernist movement. Carey is forced to acknowledge Joyce's intense interest in the lives of ordinary people, but tries lamely to argue that this interest was born out of a desire to make it easier for a bureaucratic elite to dominate and manipulate the proles. As if Ulysses was the work of a dry bourgeois sociologist, like Durkheim or Talcott Parsons!
The best way to prove John Carey wrong, of course, is to pick up a copy of Ulysses and read (anywhere). If you're not in a reading mood, or you don't feel like anything too modernist, here's Syd Barrett putting Joyce's early poem 'Golden Hair' to music at Abbey Road one hazy day in the late '60s: