1950s >> 1958 >> no-642-february-1958

Book Review: Is the Vatican Freedom’s only Foe?

We are aware that when we state our case against religion we come up against deeply rooted prejudice. Of course religious people do not like to think of themselves as being prejudiced but, as wrong as they may think us to be, they must fairly examine our position if they are to have anything other than emotional convictions about their own ideas.

It is fundamental to the Socialist case that belief in gods and their powers over human affairs is one of the things that stands in the way of the workers’ understanding and ending their subject and exploited condition. It is with religion as the prop to the present system of property rights and privileges—as sanctifier of capitalist laws, wars and institutions, as an agent of the capitalist class in keeping its wage-slaves docile—that as Socialists we are concerned with exposing and opposing it

If the workers of the world are to take the stage and proclaim the world to be theirs, if they are to realise the powers lying dormant in their own heads and hands, they must cast off the fog of religion together with the other fallacies maintaining this system. We claim that there are no “divine” solutions to housing, poverty, hunger, war and insecurity. Faith and prayers can only delay the day when discontentment with these things organises to abolish the system that brings them.

A small book has been written by one Adrian Pigott, which plays its role in the farce of Catholic versus Protestant, entitled Freedom’s Foe—The Vatican, from the Wickliffe Press. The way Adrian Pigott sees it, the world would be a wonderful place but for the sinister intrigues and the domineering and dictatorial nature of the Roman Catholic Church. The H-Bomb in the hands of a Protestant Eisenhower is a gift from heaven, but would be a threatening menace if controlled by a McCarthy Catholic. Taking the sincerity of the author for granted, we feel a little guilty at having to shatter such unworldly innocence, but it is nevertheless necessary.

Although Materialism recognises that men make history (that is to say it is the activities of men in relation to the environment which changes the face of the earth) it is nevertheless true that men are thrown up by the times they live in and conditioned by the social and economic forces around them. Blissfully unaware of this, our author is a “great-man” fan.

Two lists are produced in the first chapter which are supposed to show “that nearly all the human benefactors are non-Romanists—and that the ‘Black Sheep’ generally are Romanists.” Before we cast the light of our class scrutiny on some of the major anti-working class defenders of Capitalism it is curious to note in passing how Lord Baden Powell, who saved the British Army training time with the Boy Scout idea, is listed as a benefactor, while Hitler, who did the same for the German Army with Hitler Youth, is on the black list. How a religious reformer like General Booth,, who founded the now multi-millionaire Salvation Army qualifies as a “Sociologist” is rather mystifying. The Gin Houses of East End London were ready material for anyone looking for “sinners.” That the underlying cause of poverty and degradation is rooted in the system where a relatively few own, and the many are wage slaves whose lives are conditioned by the state of the labour market upon which they have to find hirers, of course completely escaped Booth and his successor, whose only answer is to bend the knee and pray.

IT MUST BE REALISED THAT THE PROVISION OF SUCH AVENUES OF ESCAPE AND SMOOTHING OF ANY DISCONTENT IS A SERVICE OF GREAT IMPORTANCE TO THE CAPITALIST CLASS AND THE WELL BEING OF THEIR SYSTEM.

Amongst the statesmen listed as “human benefactors” are Attlee, Churchill, Eden, Lenin, Lloyd George, Nehru, F. D. Roosevelt and Truman. If the virtue of these men lies in their not being Catholics, it is nothing to boast about. Lenin did more than any man with the possible exception of Stalin to distort Marxism and pass Russian State Capitalism off as Socialism; perhaps the greatest single piece of mischief ever to bring confusion to the world’s workers as to what Socialism is and where their interests lie. The rest of them have all broken strikes and supported wars and deceived the workers (including Adrian Pigott) as to the issues involved in wars. Let us stress here again it is not that they are Protestants or Hindu’s that they behave as they do, not because they are “bad men” and that “good” men in the same circumstances would have been different. It is the word “circumstances” which needs studying. The circumstances are those produced by a system of production for sale and profit and competition for markets and materials. The folly of accepting the responsibility of trying to make Capitalism work in peace and harmony lies as much on the heads of working class millions as it does on the “statesmen” they vote for. Adrian Pigott has seen fit to include Henry Ford, Rockefeller and Lord Nuffield as non-Catholic “philanthropists.” These men like the rest of the class to which they belong have amassed vast wealth out of the unpaid labour of the working class. We can only describe the attitude of those who accept the world of rich and poor and go looking for the rich to be “philanthropists” as a grovelling one.

There is also a list of warriors. Now a warrior is one skilled in the “art” of mass butchery known as making war. It is strange, to say the least, that a writer who condemns the violence and blood-letting of the Roman Catholic Church, should look upon Eisenhower, Montgomery and Tito, etc., as “human benefactors.” While it is true, as the author points out, that Senator McCarthy was a Catholic the whole of the vileness for which he was responsible was carried out under President Eisenhower. There are several worthwhile chapters on the distant and recent past of the Roman Catholic Church, which well illustrate its brutality, but in drawing attention to the harmful effects of ignorance fostered by the Romanists, the author all the time writes as a patriot and a Protestant and adopts a “holier than thou” attitude which blinds him to the equally harmful nature of Capitalism generally, and all its religious sponsors. When Adrian Pigott talks of “Freedom” he means the conditions obtaining in the non-Catholic countries and speaks in equally glowing terms about Britain, America and Russia. For the friction which exists between them he blames the “Vatican Schemers.” What really sets the major (and minor) powers at one another’s throats is, of course, their rivalry for markets, resources and trade routes which are the foundation of their profits. To whatever extent the Catholic Church is concerned in the commerce of Capitalism it is no worse than the rest of them. As for freedom, the wage slaves the world over are “free” to work for wages or starve if they refuse. Factory fodder in boom time, cannon fodder in war time, they are free to rot on the labour market when no employer finds it profitable to exploit them.

Yes, the Vatican is freedom’s foe, but not its only one. The lack of understanding of their position in Capitalist society on the part of the world’s workers, makes the continuation of all the barriers to their freedom. The word “freedom” is indeed a high sounding one, ‘ but while the productive majority have to hire themselves out of their weekly keep to a non-productive minority, it can have only a very limited significance. Only when the means of living belong in common to everyone will freedom from want, wars and insecurity begin to have meaning. We in the companion Parties for Socialism need your help urgently to bring that condition about.

H.B.

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