Editorial: The conflict between religion and Socialism
Much space has been devoted to this subject in the correspondence columns of the “Daily Herald” since the appearance of an article in which Mr. Wheatley expressed his opinion that there is no reason at all why a Catholic should not be a loyal member of the Labour Party. On this occasion Mr. Wheatley chose to pretend that the Labour Party is a Socialist Party, and that to show that the Labour Programme is compatible with the acceptance of Catholicism is the same thing as showing that Socialism is likewise compatible with it. The force of Mr. Wheatley’s argument is completely destroyed by his own definite assertion elsewhere that the Labour Party is not a Socialist Party. (See April Socialist Standard and Forward, 3rd November, 1923). It is, therefore, not surprising that the Editor of the “Daily Herald” declined to insert a letter pointing out Mr. Wheatley’s contradiction of his own argument. This is strictly in accordance with the “Herald’s” well-known principle of throwing open its columns to all shades of opinion—which agree with the Editor’s. If the opinion disagrees the columns are still open to those who can afford to pay the usual advertising rates.
The controversy was carried a stage further by the assertion of Mr. C. Diamond that a Catholic could not be a Socialist, but could be a member of the Labour Party because that body is not a Socialist Party. Mr. Diamond is the Editor of the “Catholic Herald,” and has three times stood as a Labour candidate with the official endorsement of the National Labour Party. He was accepted each time
“In face of the fact that he distinctly declared that while he was a Labour man he was not a Socialist Candidate” (Catholic Herald, 23rd May, 1925).
He wrote to the “Daily Herald” (8th May) and after quoting from our pamphlet. “Socialism and Religion,” in support of his views, went on :—
“Mr. E. Van der Velde, leader of the Belgian Socialist Party in his “Essais Socialistes,” p. 148, says: “To be at the same time Catholic and Socialist, is not only a contradiction but a practical impossibility.” ….
Cardinal Mercier declares “all the Popes who were witnesses of the dissolving action of Socialism—Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pius X, Benedict XV—condemned Socialism. The present Pope, Pius XI, condemns it.”
It is surely only fair to Catholics and Socialists that the truth should be known.”
The Editor of the “Herald” added his comment as follows :—
“Mr. Diamond, who has been three times a Labour candidate, must know that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is a small organisation which has no authority to commit the Labour Movement to any point of view. He must know also that the controversies between Catholics and Socialists (and, indeed, Liberals as well) on the Continent have no counterpart in this country.
Mr. Diamond accused Mr. Ben Spoor of having stated that the Labour Party was not Socialist. Mr. Spoor has denied that in our columns, but Mr. Diamond offers him no apology.”
With regard to Mr. Spoor and the statement he was alleged to have made, Mr. Diamond informs his readers that he is still engaged in a search for the exact quotation (23rd May). But surely the request for an apology is a piece of impudence, coming as it does from the “Daily Herald” Editor in view of his refusal to publish the admission made by Mr. Wheatley or to publish a similar admission made by Mr. Snowden and sent to him after the publication of Mr. Diamond’s letter. Other correspondents whose letters the “Herald” selected for insertion claimed Father O’Meara, of Corpus Christi Church, Brixton, and Father Hagerty, as Catholic priests, who are also Socialists.
Mr. Diamond accordingly approached Fr. O’Meara, who was a Labour candidate and is still an active Labour supporter, for his views. The reply is a plain denial.
“You can deny most emphatically that I am a Socialist” (Catholic Herald, 23 May).
As for Father Hagerty, it seems, according to Mr. Diamond, that he has ceased to be a Catholic Priest “in good standing,” and it is therefore as reasonable to quote his views as representing those of the Catholic Church as it would be to quote the secularist Mr. McCabe on the ground that he had once been a monk.
As the “Herald” made some misleading remarks about the Socialist Party, the following letter was addressed to them, but they refuse to publish it :—
May 19th, 1925.
2, Carmelite Street, E.C.
re ” SOCIALISM & RELIGION.”
Our attention has been called to a letter written by Mr. C. Diamond which dealt with the antagonism between Socialism and Religion, and was published in your columns on the 8th inst. .Your Editorial comment contains the following passage :— “Mr. Diamond . . . must know that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is a small organisation which has no authority to commit the Labour Movement to any point of view.” In view of probable misunderstanding arising from this, we ask that you insert this letter in order that your readers may know that while the Socialist Party claims to represent the Socialist view on religion as on all other matters, it has not claimed and has no desire to speak in the name of the Labour Party to which it is opposed.
As too, smallness of numbers is no proof of mistaken opinions, we would welcome the opportunity to state in the “Daily Herald” the Socialist attitude of opposition to religion because so far only one side of the case has been given publicity.
What plainly divides Socialism from all kinds of religious belief is that “Socialism is a naturalistic and materialistic philosophy. It entirely excludes the supernatural.” What causes the Catholic and Protestant Church as institutions and the Labour Party as a political body to oppose Socialism is equally plain.
Socialism stands for the abolition of private property in the means of wealth production and distribution; it involves therefore the abolition of the right to “live by owning,” which is at present enjoyed by the propertied class. The Labour Party, while advocating certain reforms which meet with the approval of the Churches do not advocate Socialism. They advocate Nationalisation or State Capitalism, which permits the capitalist to continue living on his investments, the only real difference being that he lends the money to the Government instead of investing it in privately-controlled companies. It is ultimately of no importance to the Churches as property owners or to the rest of the propertied class, how they get their income so long as they do get it. It is equally immaterial to the workers whether they are exploited by private companies to provide that income or whether they are exploited directly by the State. What they must recognise is that the Labour Party and the Churches are in favour of a continuance of the exploiting system with certain minor alterations. Moreover it is not simply a question of material interest. Anyone who cares to enquire into the economic doctrines which underlie the Labour Party programme will find that those doctrines do not treat profit and interest as exploitation, and do not recognise the possibility of abolishing them. Thus Mr. MacDonald in his “Socialism and Society” and Mr. Tawney in his “Acquisitive Society” are agreed that industry cannot be carried on unless the capitalist is paid for the use of his property. Interest is for them not a feature of capitalism which can now be dispensed with along with the system to which it belongs, but a feature of modern industry inevitable unless we destroy that industry and revert to peasant and handicraft production.
Here is a fundamental cleavage between the Socialist and the Labour Party. It is also a cleavage between the Socialist and the Catholic Church.
In his Encyclical “The Condition of the Worker,” Pope Leo XIII. clearly recognised this. Dr. Cohalan, Bishop of Cork, preaching on the Encyclical (see Freeman’s Journal, Oct. 12, 1916) pointed out that most people who describe themselves as Socialist do not deny rights of private property and therefore do not come under the Pope’s ban : Taking over railways, tramways, water supply, etc.
“By the State … is not Socialism. It does not imply a denial of private ownership, or of succession, or of the wage-earning system. The employees of the State are wage- earners.”
Socialism on the other hand means the abolition of the wages system. It may suit the Labour Party to get votes by pretending on the one hand to be Socialist, and on the other repudiating Socialism in order to attract religious people, but for their own sake the sooner the workers recognise the real facts the better for them. We stand for Socialism with all its implications, the Labour Party from confusion of thought and dishonesty of purpose is not even willing to have the Socialist view towards religion stated in the pages of the “Daily Herald.”
There are, of course, other aspects of this vital antagonism to be considered. Fraser, in the “Golden Bough,” draws attention to one of them.
“It might with some show of reason be maintained that no belief has done so much to retard the economic, and thereby the social progress of mankind as the belief in the immortality of the soul, for this belief has led race after race, generation after generation, to sacrifice the real wants of the living to the imaginary wants of the dead. The waste and destruction of life and property which this faith has entailed are enormous and incalculable” (Psyche’s Task).
Mentally and materially the obstruction of effort and waste of resources caused by the superstitions of religion and the conflict of sects is still holding back the human race. The believer in a mythical future life will never whole-heartedly devote himself to perfecting the real life here, which is all he will ever know.
Marx coined the striking phrase “Religion is the opium of the People,” and Lenin in our own day was forced to see the necessity of freeing the workers’ minds from the effects of this drug. He held it to be
“Of paramount importance …. That a magazine devoting itself to problems of militant materialism should at the same time be conducting an untiring campaign of propaganda for atheism. . . ” (see Communist International, Congress Number, 1922).
Those who want to understand the Philosophy of Socialism and the theoretical and practical relations between Socialism and Religion should read our pamphlet advertised in this issue.
(Socialist Standard, June 1925)