1970s >> 1970 >> no-786-february-1970

Letter: Socialism and Religion

Dear Sir,
On Sunday 30th November I attended a meeting of the World Socialist Party of Ireland at the branch room, 13 Queen’s Square, Belfast. During this meeting the guest speaker stated that the World Socialist Party is, “atheistic and anti- religious”. As an individual the speaker has a perfect right to be an atheist if he so desires but is the profession of atheism a necessary pre-condition of membership of the WSP?
Also, the term “anti-religious” is a very strong one. It infers a programme of de-Christianising, Stalinist purges instead of mere indifference or even benevolent neutrality, it is undeniably a positively fascist war-cry.
The speaker went on, with gay abandon, to condemn, as if integral parts of a larger whole, Christianity, Nationalism, and Racism justifying this absurdity by saying that all three alike are sops thrown to the working class to satisfy prejudice and silence dissent. I wholeheartedly agree that Christianity has been used on numerous occasions as a basis for the manipulation of its adherents but this does not condemn Christianity, only those who have thus misused its teachings. Marx himself opposed all strong-arm methods in dealing with religion, in 1865 he condemned French students who advocated militant anti-religious action. Likewise his, “religion is the people’s opium” statement was not meant to infer that the people were drugged by religion but that religion helped them to endure their sufferings and as such was beneficial. Christianity does not call on anyone to be content to live under a yoke with the ‘airy-fairy’ promise of eternal life dangling tantalisingly before them as their sole reward. The improvement of man’s condition, as through Socialism, fulfils rather than contradicts God’s plan. As a Christian, indeed a Catholic, and a Socialist I can see no contradiction between the two.

Stan J. Dempsey, 
Ballynahinch, 
Co. Down. N. Ireland.

Reply:
Mr. Dempsey sees no contradiction between being a Catholic and being a Socialist. We do, and so does the Catholic Church.

First, however, we must establish what a Socialist (properly so called) is, since this word is often used very loosely to include those who advocate only reforms of capitalism (which the Catholic Church has embraced as part of its social doctrine). A Socialist is someone who stands for Socialism where :

  • Land and industry will be owned in common by the whole community.
  • The use of land and industry will be under the democratic control of the community.
  • Buying and selling will come to an end: wealth will be produced solely and directly to satisfy man’s needs.
  • Each individual will have free access to wealth according to his needs.
  • The wages system will be replaced by voluntary work.
  • All frontiers will be abolished and all armed forces disbanded.
If Mr. Dempsey endorses this revolutionary, socialist programme then he is in conflict with his Church. We ask him three leading questions :
  • Does the Catholic Church support the private ownership of wealth, including the means of production?
  • Does the Catholic Church accept the wages system?
  • Does the Catholic Church condemn the view that all the fruits of industry should go to the producers?
We suggest the answer to all three questions is “yes”. Which is why in 1931 Pope Pius XI, in his encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, pronounced :

   No one can be at the same time a sincere Catholic and a Socialist properly so called.

There are a number of other aspects of socialist theory — on human nature, education. marriage, the class struggle, for instance— which the Catholic Church denounces. Then there is, of course, the socialist attitude to religion which explains why we say that nobody who still hits religious views is eligible to join the World Socialist Party.
Acceptance of scientific materialism — that the origin and development of the universe, of life, of man, of human society and of religion itself can be explained adequately without recourse to the so-called supernatural — is an integral part of socialist theory. A socialist party is made up of fully convinced socialists. To admit people who merely want Socialism because they think it is morally right or because it fulfills “God’s plan” would be to run the risk of eventually ceasing to be a socialist party at all.
This was one of the mistakes made by the old Social Democratic parties of Europe, which had a paper commitment to Marxism, when they proclaimed that religion was a “private matter” and refused to engage in anti-religious education. A mistake which, by the way, which is being repeated in Ireland — and for the same opportunist reasons — by the Peoples Democracy. We have always held this position to be mistaken and dangerous.
Religion is a social question which Socialist must face openly. Like nationalism and racism it is one of the delusions held by workers which stands in the way of the spread of socialist understanding. Opposition to religious ideas and institutions must be a part of socialist education.
Mr. Dempsey has obviously missed Marx’s point. Marx did regard religion as a social question. It was, he said, a kind of drug but to criticise it, while accepting the social conditions that gave rise to the need for it, was pointless. A criticism of religion, said Marx, must be tied to a criticism of society; only Socialism in fact would end the need for religion. This is what we say too and is the basis of our criticism of Atheists, Freethinkers, Secularists and Humanists. It is absurd to suggest that Marx regarded religion as “beneficial”.
We can assure Mr. Dempsey, however, that we are not in favour of persecuting Christians and other religious people. Quite apart from the fact that there will be no means for coercing people in socialist society, our aim is to convince people of the need for Socialism since it cannot be established until and unless a majority of the world’s workers want and understand it.

Editorial Committee