1920s >> 1928 >> no-284-april-1928

Editorial: Is Socialism Atheism?

We have become famous! Our booklet on Socialism and Religion has been quoted in the very respectable organ of Puritan America, the Boston Evening Transcript. In a discussion on the attitude of Socialism towards Religion in their columns, a supporter of Religion quotes long extracts from our pamphlet to the discomfiture of the so-called “ Christian Socialists.” In an attempt to reply a lady (Edith Williams) writes from Brookline, Massachusetts, as follows (January 27th 1928) about the S.P.G.B.

This organisation is a tiny and unimportant body of less than 1,000 members, which does not belong to the Labour and Socialist International, to which the British Labour party, the Socialist party in this country, and all the important Socialist parties throughout the world are affiliated, largely because it refuses to abide by the regulation that religion is a private matter and that no one may attack religion from a Socialist party platform. There are, no doubt, Socialists who are atheists just as there are Democrats and Republicans who are atheists, but when they insist on attacking religion from a Socialist party platform they are, of course, excluded from the party just as the Socialist Party of Great Britain is excluded from the British Labour party.

This letter is typical of the religious fraternity. It dodges the essential question and argues that we have only small numbers. From that angle the ” Socialist Party of America ” is ruled out of court. If numbers decide and not principles, then the Republicans and Democrats are right. If numbers are the test of truth, the great mass of workers who supported the last war were right and Socialists were wrong. Even judged by their own party (the S.P. of America) they are wrong to-day, because that party once claimed over 100,000 members whilst to-day they number a few thousands!

The arguments and evidence supplied in our pamphlet, proving that Socialism and Religion are fundamentally opposed to each other, are ignored by the apologist of the Socialist Party of America.

The lack of knowledge of this “harmoniser ” of Socialism and Religion is shown in her false statement that we were excluded from the British Labour Party!

Excluded! The Socialist Party of Great Britain, unlike the Communists, has never tried to join the Labour Party. We are Socialists. We stand for the interests of and appeal to the working class alone. The Labour Party has a capitalist programme and has within its ranks Tories, Liberals and all shades of opinion except Socialists. The Labour Party appeals not to a class, but to the community, as Ramsay MacDonald told the Ilford electors at the bye-election just over.

We are opposed to the Labour Party and therefore exclude ourselves from that party of supporters of capitalism. Not on the ground of religion, but on the fundamental grounds of the class struggle, which includes our attitude towards religion as just one item of conflict. The Labour Party, like the S.P. of America, appeal to all shades of superstition because they want votes and not Socialists.

The real purpose of this brief article is to draw attention to the distortion of our attitude by avowed anti-Socialists. The writer who quoted our pamphlet in the Boston [Evening] Transcript has written a booklet for the “Movement against Socialism in the Church,” entitled Is Atheism inherent in Socialism?

This booklet quotes our pamphlet extensively and also re-hashes a large number of quotations from alleged Socialists that he has culled from such Catholic Handbooks as Father Ming’s “Religion of Socialism,” and Jesuit Cathrein’s “Socialism.” His only “quotation” from Marx is a fake. He accuses Marx of saying: ” The idea of God must be destroyed; it is the keystone of a perverted civilisation.” His authority for this is not Marx’s own works, but the religious writer Peabody, in “Jesus Christ and the Social Question.” Like most of our opponents he has not read Marx’s own work but lifts alleged quotations from others. Any student of Marx would easily see that the view fathered on Marx is foreign to all Marx’s materialist views. Marx never held that capitalism was a perverted civilisation. He never held that ideas were keystones of society. His views were entirely contrary to that. What Mr. Peabody has done is to kindly take the outburst of Bakunin (the Anarchist and idealist opponent of Marx) from the Manifesto of the Swiss and Anarchist so-called International Working Men’s Association. Bakunin and other ‘Anarchists’ violent and futile denunciation of “Gods” was opposed by Marx and Engels, who held that Socialism was not Atheism, but a positive and constructive attitude towards life and society involving a recognition of the material basis of social relations and institutions.

The views of Marx are not dealt with by the supporters of religion. The claim that Socialism is Atheism ignores the fact that Atheism is a negative attitude towards belief in the “Gods” whereas the materialist view of history held by the Socialist leaves no room for gods or spooks in our outlook on the world, but explains the rise as well as the exodus of ideas of “Gods and Ghosts” by the changes in the conditions under which men work and live. The Socialist does not set out to destroy the idea of God—that is the idealist, topsy-turvy policy of Atheism. Our policy is to recognise the cause of social beliefs and to work for the establishment of a system whose social conditions men can understand without believing in the “Hand of God.”

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