Christianity & The Tobacco Trust. Three Open Letters


“The Y.M.C.A. Campaign Committee in London yesterday evening issued a statement that at six o’clock (closing the twelfth day of the attempt to raise £100,000 in twelve days), the amount secured totalled £66,777. This includes £1,000 received yesterday from the Imperial Tobacco Company. The campaign will still be continued for the purpose of raising the balance of the £100,000, which is urgently required.” “Manchester Guardian,” 24.1 12.


“Imperial Tobacco : 30 per cent, dividend and £500,000 to the reserve.”— (Same paper.)

Young Men of the Y.M.C.A.,
Sirs,—As you are such prolific consumers of “fags,” it is meet that the tobacco Croesus should lavishly contribute to your spiritual sustenance. Rarely have I seen such a happy conteguity as between the paragraphs cited above. “You scratch, my back and I’ll scratch yours” seems to be the basis of friendship. You of the Y.M.C.A. are the elite amongst cadgers. In every dirty industrial town your premises are to be seen, with the inevitable secretary, whose dirty work is to dun the newly rich and sleek aldermanic capitalists to find cash wherewith to organise scouts, prayer-meetings, sing-songs, and debating societies that dare not debate. Your position is contemptible. Lacking the financial resources for the provision of any recreative facilities, you meanly fawn before your bosses and beg them to disgorge a minute proportion of the wealth which you have created. Like the “niggers” at the seaside, you hold out your hat with : “may I have the privilege of your patronage ?” Nay, far worse ! The “niggers” are conscious that their slaver is only humbug, but you, pious and deluded young men, are earnest in your suppliant cringing to industrial bosses and trusts. Such an attitude is the result of the religious narcotics which your bosses’ spiritual lackeys use to dull your senses. Narcotics ! are not tobacco and religion alike narcotics ? It is evidently a logical partnership—Tobacco Trust and Y.M.C.A.


Clergymen of Britain,
Dear Sirs,—Priests of both sorts, married and unmarried, have a like aim—the perpetuation of that system which is represented by the Tobacco Trust as giver, and the Y.M.C.A. as grateful recipient. Humbugs and practiced touts ! you are worse—far more mean, than the young men of the Y.M.C.A. who receive monies for “recreative” purposes. You are the men of thought—of trained intellect—masters of your passions—ethical instructors ; and yet the least in the Y.M.C.A. is better than, the greatest amongst you. These youths are ignorant; many amongst you must know all—must despise the fatty-hearted owners of those tables under which you push your knees. You must despise and know those fortunate capitalist blockheads who dole out their alms and charities. See the position of the youth of the Y.M.C.A.! They are first used as a means of profit-making, and then part of the profit is grudgingly offered back to them. It is as if you were to steal (we can imagine it) from a wayfarer, and then offer him back a minute portion of the plunder ; not only that, but as if you were to expect the robbed wayfarer to be grateful to you for returning a portion of his own wealth. Does not the whole business savour of a joke ? You who pander to the robber and tend his soul—and guard his commodities, we do not expect you to take the side of the robbed : boodle and graft are not there. But in spite of you, in spite of capitalist propping up of Y.M.C.A. and the like, you are doomed. Time is on our side ; things are moving our way. Your pagodas are laxly attended ; your lauding of poverty as something temporary, to be followed by bliss in the New Jerusalem, is becoming a stock joke. On your side are capitalistic wealth, and your humbug or idiocy—on ours are science and the organised workers. Such a combination will sweep the tobacco trust and all other trusts, and their pious hangers-on, into the limbo of used-up things.


Mr. Hilaire Belloc.
Dear Sir,— Can you solve the problem of the Y.M.C.A. and the tobacco trust ? You would, I know, skit and drastically condemn a social system having such phenomena for its results. But that alone does not warrant the worker placing dependence in you : Maddison and “Mabon” and Sir William Bull would also admit the imperfection of capitalism. You claim to be afraid of the servile State, of industrial Ulster and Black Country and North Germany. You advocate what you call “canalisation,” the redistribution of property amongst the disinherited workers. You desire the 14th century in the 20th, and the next, and to transplant the conditions which preceded the industrial revolution and machinery to the social state resulting from these changes. You are a social atavist.

That this is an age of trusts, pools, combines, and arrangements of divers sorts ‘twixt capitalists you would like to deny, but have the per­spicuity to admit. You also admit the danger to the worker’s “freedom” in the “commission for extra work” cunning of capitalists of the Lever type. Well then, the tobacco combine is a reality ; it is possible that an able organiser may at any time put its employees on “profit-sharing” terms. How have we to fight such a move ? You are aware that State ownership is alien to Socialism, alien to democratic control of industry ; what other alternative, then, but ownership by the workers ? State ownership, co-partnership, or the present state of affairs (you admit) alike manufacture the servile worker—what alternative but Socialism ? You talk of a panacea of your own, which, so far as one can judge, is either seme hazy tentative kind of a pseudo-Socialism, under which the workers would have about as much influence over their industrial overlords as the Catholic laity have over the appointment of the priests, or a future in which the worker shall possess “stocks and shares in his own and other industries—a possession which shall be rendered as secure as possible and shall be hereditable in his family,” or else an army of poverty-laden, rabidly competitive, small tobacco manufacturers, or—but one does not know for certain what you crave, except the reconciliation of Democracy and Catholicism—and at heart you cannot hope for that.

“Capitalism,” you say, “simply means that diseased condition arising in a State where the land and minerals and implements are owned by a few to the exclusion of the many.” And, we can add, where the few (tobacco monopoly) attempt to chloroform the many (Y.M.C.A.) by doling out a wee portion of the plunder. Will you show us how the Holy Catholic Church can stop the giving of this social anaesthetic ? Will you give us evidence from your inspired encyclicals showing that your church has in the past shown a desire to come to blows with our industrial monomaniacs ? You cannot, for your church and Y.M.C.A. have like functions,—are devilish decoys drawing the workers away from manliness and ownership and freedom, making them instead stupidly contented, with eyes on heaven—and the employer and the parson on their backs.


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