1980s >> 1984 >> no-956-april-1984
Letters: Socialists against religion
In the January edition of your journal (p.9) you talk of religious indoctrination and “tedious and absurd fairy stories”. Is this view on religion universally representative of the Socialist Party or is it simply the personal prejudice of one of its members? (Which is presumably acceptable to an elected editorial board.)
In the Declaration of Principles there is no mention of atheism or agnosticism as being a prerequisite for membership of the party. Does this mean that someone having a religious faith and also desiring to help solve the problems of the world can join the party? Or is it the ease that anyone who believes in supernatural powers; and who, in other words, rejects the rigid historical materialism of Engels (and to a lesser extent Marx) will be prevented from furthering the cause of socialism?
If the Socialist Party regards the fundamental message of Christianity and many other religions, namely, “love your neighbour”, as being incompatible with their aims because it is not founded on materialistic and scientific argument, then I believe that this proviso should be included in the Declaration of Principles.
S P Hayhurst
The Socialist Standard is the official journal of the Socialist Party of Great Britain and states the socialist attitude on current issues as well as theoretical matters. The piece in the January number put the socialist ease about religion, although of course the manner in which it was put would vary from member to member, so that the wording might not suit all socialists. Our opposition to religion is not a prejudice, it is not a judgement made before having any facts or evidence. We argue that religion is opposed to working class interests, hampers the spread of socialist consciousness and with all this has no scientific evidence to support it. On no grounds can it be justified.
While this is not explicitly stated in our Declaration of Principles, the policy is there by clear implication (as is the case with other issues, such as our opposition to racism and our support for trade unionism) in the materialistic interpretation of human history. This is an essential part of the socialist case; we therefore reject any applicant for membership who holds religious views, or who believes in the supernatural, because these attitudes are not compatible with a vital part of our case. Of course there are people who hold such views and who also have a genuine desire to do something about the problems of capitalism. Such people are sincere but also confused on matters which are vital to socialism and cannot therefore be accepted into our party. Ideas like “loving your neighbour” sound constructive but in themselves they are not useful; the words have been on the lips of many a Christian who saw no difficulty in supporting the wars of capitalism, in which neighbours were emphatically not to be loved. The case for socialism does not rest on such abstract idealism but on scientific materialism and that is why we are opposed to all religion and belief in a supernatural.
The End of Feudalism
In his excellent survey “England as Marx’s Model” in your January 1984 issue, ALB rightly describes Marx’s section on primitive accumulation in Volume 1 of Capital as “virtually a short history of the economic and social development of England from the middle of the sixteenth century”. In my view, however, it is far more than this since it is also here that Marx unerringly places the destruction of the English peasantry in Tudor England, linking this event dialectically with the termination of feudal social and economic arrangements.
This is in direct contradistinction to bourgeois historiography which continues to treat Tudor land enclosure as a movement localised both in time and space, i.e. as merely a reaction by landowners to an advance in wool prices and affecting only limited areas of England. Bourgeois economic historians continue to ascribe the disappearance of the English peasant to the activities of the Commissioners of Enclosure in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries—an interpretation which effectively isolates the movement from its real roots in the revolution in the mode of production occurring two centuries earlier.
This is all the more remarkable since it is now fifty-seven years since the (non-Marxist) economic historian, Ms E. Davies, in a brilliant study of the Land-Tax Assessments, discovered to her own surprise that, by the time the Commissioners came round, the English peasant had been gone from time immemorial. Marx was thus confirmed.
The question arises, are (at least some) bourgeois scholars unconscious Marxists?
Most socialists are understandably reluctant to set out a detailed blueprint of the kind of society they ultimately envisage. But clearly both activists and sympathisers must have, without falling into utopianism, a realistic vision of the outlines of a socialist society. To help with research I am doing in this area, I’d like to hear from readers what their vision is.
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