1980s >> 1982 >> no-933-may-1982

Editorial: Socialists against religion

To many people who hear the socialist case, our attack on religious ideas seems a matter of bad taste; we should not, we are often told, “bring religion into politics”. Our reply is simple and direct: religion is politics.

Religious ideas, of whatever kind, are a hindrance in the urgent political task of overthrowing capitalist society and replacing it with socialism. To accomplish this, to establish a society free of exploitation, hunger, war and insecurity, the working class must concentrate on the material world in which they get their living. To dabble in the theology of the supernatural is a diversion in these efforts; it sets back the day of international mass socialist understanding and so helps to keep capitalism in being. That is why religion is political.

It is no surprise that the larger, established religions like Roman Catholicism and Protestantism found so comfortable a place in capitalism’s morality. Such religions praise the process by which the working class are exploited and are denied access to the abundance of wealth which they produce. Religion blesses the people, the organisations and the machines—on all sides—which in wartime plan and execute the murder and the terrorising of millions of workers. It sanctifies the personal symbols of class privilege—the weddings, the coronations, the inaugurations and the other nauseous celebrations of capitalism’s ruling class. Religion is bloodily, wretchedly political.

There are of course numerous religious sects which disclaim any responsibility for the crimes and the culpability of the established churches. These sects—for example the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Christadelphians—have rather different religious theories. They often hold to a stubbornly anachronistic view of humanity’s future—of an Armageddon followed by salvation for the select few who have foresworn all interest in the material reality of life. Such bizarre notions are obstacles in the way of the urgent struggle for working class awareness of the facts of capitalist life.

Equally culpable are those religions which insidiously claim to have rejected capitalism and who therefore campaign for an unending stream of reforms. Many Methodists and Quakers think in this way; some even claim to be socialists, by which they mean they support some disreputable organisation as the Labour Party. They are to be seen—tireless, on CND marches, anti-apartheid demonstrations and the like. They are driven by the conviction that capitalism is an immoral society and that its problems can therefore be dealt with by some moral adjustments. Their political stance is to tell the workers that capitalism can be improved through a change of heart and it need not, then, be abolished. They too stand in the way of the desperately needed revolution.

In contrast to all this confusion, inconsistency and deceit the socialist case is clear. There is no scientific basis for any belief in the supernatural. Religious force will not make the wheat grow, nor rear animals, nor design and produce all the other wealth of a modern society. Religious theories answer no questions about the world we live in. Humans are born into a material world, their ideas are fashioned on that world and they in their turn modify it. The theory that there is something outside that material world is a pretence, an intellectual retreat before some mystery. Progress towards socialism demands an intellectual advance by the working class, to an understanding and an acceptance of a new social order.

This intellectual advance is part of the human response to material conditions. Capitalism is in a parlous state. It is murdering, starving to death, or killing by avoidable disease, tens of millions of people every year. It condemns those that are left alive to a burden of degrading exploitation and repression. This is not a moral issue, which can be put right by some religious upsurge. It is too pressing to be treated by the working class as a matter for finicky debate on moral niceties.

The working class response to capitalism must reflect their awareness of the system’s basic inadequacy—that capitalism cannot satisfy the needs of its peoples. Yet society is capable of producing an abundance of wealth and comfort for everyone. The material and technical ability and knowledge is there; it needs only a basic change in society, to clear away the obstruction of the social relations of capitalism, to unleash them.

When the mass working class grasp that fact they will be at the point of taking the political action for the establishment of socialism. They will no longer be seeing capitalism in terms of good and evil, of saints and sinners. They will have rejected the vacuous moralising which is the essential of all religions. The clear, materialist conception of human history will have brought them to the conclusion that only a social revolution will do.

Socialism will be the common ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution. It will be a moneyless society of free access to an abundance of wealth. Human ability, liberated from the constraints of the profit motive, will take an enormous leap forward; for the first time people will live and co-operate in freedom and they will express this in a massive creativity. As a classless, democratic society, socialism will have no politics; decisions will be made on the basis of human welfare, not on class interests.

We have said that, in an increasingly dangerous world, socialism grows ever more urgent. Any hindrance to the revolution must be treated with hostility. Let no worker be deceived as to the nature of religion; it is an obstacle to social progress, a hindrance to the struggle to build a world for free people, a contribution to the decadence of a degenerate, anti-human social system.