We feel compelled to write regarding a recent and heated debate in the letters page of our local newspaper between an exponent of World Socialism and a Christian.
We became interested in the SPGB after attending last year’s May Day anti-capitalist protest in Manchester. After reading SPGB literature and several copies of the Socialist Standard, we have come to agree with the basis of the World Socialist viewpoint. However, we do not agree with the movement’s stance regarding religion. We are not Christian, indeed we do not identify totally with any faith. Although we understand that religion can be destructive and used for social control, this does not, in our opinion, validate your intolerance towards people’s faith.
Speaking personally, our acceptance of socialism grew from the application of our spiritual beliefs derived from both Eastern and Western religious traditions. Without this we would be resigned to the ubiquitous apathy we see in our peers.
We find it insulting to suggest that those who develop a sense of righteousness and compassion through religious belief are not more than puppets. We feel that by over-emphasising Marx’s attitudes towards religion the SPGB is failing to address the issue: the abolition of capitalism. It can hardly be argued that institutionalised religion in the UK continues to provide “pie in the sky when you die” for the average worker. Instead, we find solace in the millions of Ecstasy tablets taken and innumerable pints downed in our life-for-the-weekend mentality.
Surely then, the SPGB should be tackling social apathy and capitalist ideologies rather than distracting and belittling itself with slanging matches. Many people contacting our local paper confused World Socialism with state capitalism. This major misunderstanding went largely uncorrected, lost in a puerile and futile argument over religion.
The rejection of religion does not feature in the SPGB’s declaration of principles, and therefore we consider it to be beside the point. Only when World Socialism focuses all its energy in educating the people of the world in viable alternatives to capitalism will it be fulfilling its objectives.
TONY CURRY & RACHEL PASS, Morecambe, Lancs.
Reply: Actually, we are not mere God-killers and religion-bashers. We leave that to the National Secular Society. Our main aim is to propagate socialist ideas in place of existing authoritarian and irrational ideas that help maintain capitalism. This involves us combating those ideas such as racism, nationalism, the idea that we need leaders, must have armies, need money, and also religion.
The position we take up on religion is rather well summed up in the summary of Marx’s views that the Christian Alistair McIntyre gives in his book Marxism and Christianity:
“According to Marx, religion has a dual role to play. Throughout the history of class society religion performs two essential functions: it buttresses the established order by sanctifying it and by suggesting that the political order is somehow ordained by divine authority, and it consoles the oppressed exploited by offering them in heaven what they are denied upon earth. At the same time, by holding before them a vision of what they are denied, religion plays at least partly a progressive role in that it gives the common people some idea of what a better order would be. But when it becomes possible to realize that better order upon earth in the form of communism, then religion becomes wholly reactionary, for it distracts men from establishing a now possible good society on earth by still turning their eyes towards heaven. Its sanctification of the existing social order makes it a counter-revolutionary force. Thus in the course of building a communist society, the Marxist must fight religion because it will, inevitably stand in his path. But in a communist society there will be no need to persecute religion, for its essential functions will have disappeared. There will, no longer be an exploiting class, nor will the common people stand in need of religious consolations,. Religion itself will disappear of its own accord without persecution” (Chapter 7).-Editors.
Thank you for reviewing Against Parliament, for Anarchism in the April Socialist Standard. I appreciate the thoughtfulness shown in the review: as much as we wish to express the ideas of anarchist communism in our propaganda, I believe it is equally valuable to see what reaction we get from people with other perspectives, to help us hone our ideas further.
As regards the omission of the Socialist Party from the pamphlet, I would say that that was an error on our part, and in particular myself as overall co-ordinator/editor. I did not write the section on the Far Left, but feel now that I should have asked the comrade who did to contribute something on the Socialist Party as well, as I acknowledge that your interpretation of Marxism does separate you from the kind of parties/sects normally grouped under the Far Left umbrella, particularly in the rôle you see for Parliament. Hopefully we will be able to produce a revised version of the pamphlet at some point in the future, and can then include some discussion of the Socialist Party’s views.
ADRIAN, pp Anarchist Federation, London E1
Due to a computer problem, I suspect, my letter in the May Socialist Standard read 12 instead of 2. This gave the careful reader the impression that profit represents over 90 percent of surplus value. Perhaps in Karl Marx’s day this might have been true. But not today; that’s for sure.
Why your response to my letter failed to point out that the political state in this age of massive reformism represents the biggest portion of surplus value is noteworthy,. My guess is that it has something to do with clause 6 of your Declaration of Principles and the need of a transition period (not in the Trotskyist sense) in which a good SPGB “dictatorship of the proletariat” would come into power.
If you now are going to openly advocate a dictatorship of the proletariat, then the issue of surplus value is crucial. To shrug it off as “pedantic” and not the important is scary.
THOMAS ALPINE, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA
Reply: You are right that today a large portion (we don’t know about the biggest portion) of surplus value goes to the state via taxes, which all ultimately fall on capitalist employers and other property owners. But we don’t see what this has got to do with us advocating that workers should take political action to establish socialism. Perhaps you mistakenly think that we are advocating some SPGB government that would keep the state in being and still siphon off surplus value from the workers. But there’s no need to be scared. We advocate that the state should be abolished just as soon as socialism (common ownership and democratic control of the means of production) has been established, which can be done very rapidly once a majority has decided that it wants this and organises itself democratically to bring it about. Once this has been done, then the socialist political party (i.e. the working class organised democratically and politically for socialism) will also be disbanded -Editors.