Socialism and Religion

To the Editor.
Sir,—I should like to say a few words on your pamphlet on “Socialism and Eeligion.”
Passing over the origin of the latter, which all standard writers agree to be largely hypothetical, or based upon observations of the customs of modern savage tribes, I will come to page 18 of your brochure. Following a quotation from Marx’s “Capital” you say: “It is, therefore, a profound truth that Socialism is the natural enemy of religion.”
In the name of common sense why ? Are we to delete the words “Thus saith the Lord,” and substitute “Thus saith Marx” ?
As a political economist Marx was, in my opinion, at the top, but in dealing with speculative subjects or in trying to prove a negative, he was no better than the rest of us. I claim to be fully alive to the true Socialist position, at the same time I possess strong religious sentiments, being a firm believer in a future state of conscious existence. Can I prove a future existence ? No, neither can I prove that Socialism is right ; nor can any man living.
External Nature recognises no right but force. Man’s conception of right is purely sentimental. He cannot prove this or that to be right, he merely thinks it is.
We can scientifically prove the workers are exploited, but we cannot scientifically prove they ought not to be exploited ; we have here nothing but a sentiment of right and justice to support us.
Neither the Socialist nor the anti-Socialist has a common standard of right to which he may appeal ; consequently, the question resolves itself into a conflict of ideas, which proves conclusively that the whole subject is dominated by sentiment.
The difficulty of reaching a clear issue is greatly increased when we enter the realm of speculation. No one, I take it, can prove that there is a God ; no one can demonstrate there is not. A belief in either direction is all that can exist ; this being primarily due to the mental make-up of the individual, and secondly to his environment.
Belief and disbelief—in what is termed the supernatural are probably as old as the human race, and with equal probability will continue so long as the race endures—or until such time as a future life can be scientifically demonstrated.
I am myself an earnest believer in Socialism, and in my own way do all I can to propagate its teaching ; but if I felt that the establishment of Socialism would stifle free thought, I would in future leave it alone, for to me free thought does not mean merely thinking in opposition to religion, but thinking in favour of it should the individual be prompted to do so.
To argue that a man cannot be a Socialist and still retain belief in a God or a future life is to me utter nonsense, for the faculties used in considering the two conceptions are as distinct as those employed in studying mathematics and music.
Socialism is a theory of a system of society, and is based upon an analysis of capitalist production. This analysis belongs to the science of political economy. Marx, though he opened fresh ground, did not found a new science.
To analyise capitalist production and scientifically prove that the workers are exploited is one thing; to scientifically prove they should not be is another. You cannot offer such proof ; you can only believe they should not be exploited, therefore in this respect, you are on a par with the religionist—you believe ; he believes.
The human brain is so complex that a vast proportion of the race, Socialists included, can think in terms of contradiction ; to say they cannot is to affirm that every man thinks logically.
I have said Socialists included. Let me give you one example out of many I could name.
In every Socialist text-book you read, and from every Socialist platform you hear, that present day production is social. The absurdity of this statement never appears to strike writer, reader, speaker or hearer. It is obviously impossible to have social production under private ownership, yet this glaring contradiction is accepted without question by Socialists, and do they work less strenuously on account of such an absurd belief ?
Therefore as Socialists can and do honestly think in terms of contradiction, why may not the religionist do the same ?
Assuming the religious conception to be false, I claim that is yet possible for the vast proportion of the human race to believe in it, without conflicting with any other conceptions which you might think at variance with it, or even in direct opposition to it. Introspective reasoning is always defective. “Because I cannot nobody else can” is bad logic. In short, it is not logic at all. Facts are what we require, and I assert—and unbiassed investigation will prove the assertion to be true—that the great majority can harmonise their religious beliefs with the teaching of Socialism. To affirm the contrary is to fly in the face of facts. Further, they will still believe when Socialism is established, for the religious faculties are innate in mankind, and you can never destroy them.
Given a nation of atheists, and the first generation would see a revival of some form of religion.
I know I am what is termed a Socialist, and consider myself qualified to prove it, even to the satisfaction of the Executive of S.P.G.B., yet, as I have said , I am a firm believer in a future life. In no way do the two exceptions conflict, and as an ounce of fact is worth a ton of theory, so far as I am concerned, your contention is out of court.
What is true of me is true of the bulk of mankind. The institution of Socialism will not destroy religion, it will merely change its form, the power of religious conception being innate and indestructible. Therefore, in regarding the religious principle with hostility, you are tilting against a windmill. —Yours fraternally,


Mr. Wright’s letter illustrates the fact shown in our pamphlet, that religion flourishes amidst confusion, and is entirely incompatible with, definite knowledge and sound reasoning. Our critic, for instance, glosses over the unimpeachable evidence which shows the materialist origin of religion. Further, he uses terms in several distinct senses in one argument—an unfailing source of confusion and error. And he appears to seriously argue that Socialism is not in contradiction with religion because people “can think in terms of contradiction” ! It is obviously a complete surrender to us when the religious apologist’s chief argument in favour of the assertion that “the great majority can harmonise their religious beliefs with the teaching of Socialism” is, that men do not think logically.

Mr. Wright is at pains to tell us in one part of his letter that the Socialist, in his ideas, “is on a par with the religionist—you believe ; he believes,” and that” the whole subject is dominated by sentiment,” and is merely a conflict of superstitions. Therefore, according to Mr. Wright, precisely the same faculties come into play in dealing with religion as in dealing with Socialism. But we also learn from him further on that “the faculties used in considering the two conceptions” are distinct. The reader can please himself. The statement in the pamphlet that “It is, therefore, a profound truth that Socialism is the natural enemy of religion occurs after a full demonstration of that fact, of which the quotation from Marx was but the summary and conclusion. It is not because Marx or another has said it that it is true, but because the evidence proves it to be so. We acknowledge only science and experience as our authority, but the religionist who says with Mr. Wright, “Thus saith the Lord,” solemnly quotes as supreme authority the traditions of superstitious barbarians !

Our critic admits that he cannot prove a future existence, but asserts that neither he nor any man living can prove “that Socialism is right.” As though to demonstrate his inability to prove anything he goes on to confuse matters by using that ambiguous word “right” in nearly every sense in which it can be used. No wonder he cannot prove Socialism to be true, i.e., in accord with science. We undertake to do so or we should not be Socialists.

All knowledge is undoubtedly composed of beliefs. But the Socialist accepts only those which are supported by the evidence of experience and scientific reasoning. Mr. Wright evidently believes without evidence, and in the face of experience.

He says that present day production is not social. Does he really expect us to “believe,” on his bare statement, that the present system does not cause us to be associated, by the very force of events, as parts of the social productive force meeting the demands of the social market ? Does he deny that co-operative labour characterises the modern factory, and that we are completely dependent upon the social market for our every need ? Surely he will not maintain that we are still handicraftsmen and peasants producing individually and independently everything we consume ? Appropriation is individual, hence the anomaly ; for we are certainly units in capitalism’s social forces of production, as dependent on the labour of the butcher, the baker, the shoddy cloth maker as these are dependent, through the market, upon our labour for some of their many needs. Mr. Wright, in short, fails to grasp a most elementary economic fact.

“Assuming the religious conception to be false,” says our critic, “I claim it is yet possible for the vast proportion of the human race to believe in it, without conflicting in any way (italics ours) with other conceptions which you might think at variance with it or even in direct opposition to it.”

If this brilliant passage has a meaning (which, we hesitate to believe) it is like saying that you can believe that two plus two equal both four and seven without there being contradiction. There are places where people afflicted with this kind of mental trouble are looked after.

As Mr. Wright says, “Introspective reasoning is always defective. ‘Because I cannot nobody else can’ is bad logic.” So when he infers from the ease with which he can assimilate and “believe” quite contradictory ideas, that every normal man can do the same, he is guilty, according to his own statement, of shocking “logic.”

However, he means well, for he states “Facts are what we require.” Yet he goes on to say, with unconscious irony, “And I assert … To affirm the contrary is to fly in the face of facts. Further,” (he does more wild asserting, in the realms of prophecy this time) “they will still believe when Socialism is established, for the religious faculties are innate in mankind, and you can never destroy them.” Evidently Mr. Wright is both a great discoverer and a great prophet. He has discovered (or should it be invented?) new faculties and decreed their immortality. But he will eclipse even this if he can discover these “innate and indestructible” religious faculties in the members of the Executive Committee of the Socialist Party.

Although he assures us that he knows he is “what is termed a Socialist,” we decline responsibility for such loose terminology.

As he says, an ounce of fact is worth a ton of theory, but what a pity our critic has not been able to provide even the ounce of fact. He hardly merits attention, for he has wilfully ignored the mass of evidence which upholds the Socialist case. Until that evidence is controverted or shown to be of no weight, our case as demonstrated in the pamphlet in question remains unshaken.

It is useless tilting against the scientific position by ignoring facts, confusing terms, and perverting logic—yet, strange to say, these are the religionist’s only weapons.


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