I am not sure that I would go along with all you say in your response to Tony Curry and Rachel Pass on the subject of religion (June Socialist Standard).
I would say that our primary purpose as a political movement is the establishment of socialism and that our attitude to religion should be purely governed by this objective. Looked at from this perspective, does that attitude, which seeks to justify the policy of excluding anyone with religious beliefs from membership of the Party, hinder or advance the cause of socialism?
I would say that, on balance, it hinders it. Why? Because it unquestionably turns off a large number of sympathisers who would otherwise join our movement and accelerate its growth. The counter-argument to this which you give in your response is that religion “is a weapon in the hands of our class adversaries” because it (1) acts to “divide the working class” and (2) is based on a world view “totally at odds with the working class perspective of scientific dialectical historical materialism”. I do not feel either of these arguments are sufficiently persuasive to warrant our blanket bar on all applicants holding religious views (though this might be justified in some cases).
As far as (1) is concerned, I do not see this is necessarily the case at all. Certainly one can point to examples where religion is used as a pretext for dividing the working class – look at Northern Ireland or the clash between Sinhalese Buddhism and Tamil Hinduism in Sri Lanka. But how can it possibly be maintained that a vague personal religious belief such as that there is such a thing as a supernatural lifeforce permeating the universe, really be construed as “divisive”? On any reasonable interpretation it cannot be. Surely, if religion is divisive then one way round this problem may be to make a distinction between personal religions and organised religions, so that only individuals adhering to the former may join our movement.
As far as 2) is concerned I don’t find the argument particularly convincing either. It is entirely possible for individuals to hold two theoretically incompatible sets of views without one interfering with the other. There are scientists who are Christians but whose religious beliefs do not in any way interfere with their scientific work. Similarly, one may entertain a personal religious belief (such as the above) and yet be an ardent supporter of socialism. One may wholly accept the materialist conception of history as a paradigmatic model of historical explanation and yet still believe in a supernatural entity. Besides which, I would suggest that, as far as we are concerned as a practical political movement, “metaphysical materialism” (which has to do with deeper questions of why we are here and so on) is completely and utterly irrelevant to our purpose; the only kind of materialism that is relevant to us is historical materialism which is emphatically not the same thing as metaphysical materialism.
In the final analysis, the objection to members holding religious views is that it might subvert in some way the integrity of our socialist outlook. But this objection is wholly superfluous; if it were the case that a religious outlook were antithetical to our socialist viewpoint, then this would soon enough manifest itself by the individual concerned coming in to conflict with one or other of our several principles. These principles act as safeguards to ensure the integrity of our socialist movement; our current policy on religion is redundant to this requirement and as such an unnecessary obstacle to the growth of the socialist movement itself.
ROBIN COX, Redruth, Cornwall
Reply: We still say that socialist understanding is based not simply on a materialist approach to history (no supernatural intervention) but also on a materialist approach to the universe (no supernatural intervention there either), and also to life – this is the only one all of us are going to get, so let’s make the most of it by establishing the best material environment for it, down here on Earth, i.e the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. We readily accept that people can – and do – hold contradictory views but don’t see this as something to be encouraged by opening our ranks to them.– Editors.
The letter from Tony Curry and Rachel Pass, in your June edition expresses a criticism that I have made in the past myself. (In my case, as a Christian.) You overlook the following passage from Alistair McIntyre’s summary of Marx on religion, in his book Marxism and Christianity:
“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”.
There has always been a stream of Christian thought that stresses the coming kingdom of God and its difference from the kingdoms of this world. It therefore stands in judgment over the established political order, encouraging Christians to live by the values of the coming kingdom as a witness against that order. One example of that stream is condemned in Article 38 of the 39 Articles of the Church of England: “The riches and goods of Christians are not common, as touching the right, title and possession of the same, as certain Anabaptists do boast”. There are an increasing number Christians who would see ourselves as heirs of those Anabaptists.
Those, such as myself, who belong within that stream of thought would echo Marx’s criticism of “religion” ourselves, on Biblical grounds, since true Christianity is not a “religion” in that sense. Religion is about humanity creating gods to help them cope with their present state. Christianity is about the true God breaking in on his creation to upset that state. He did this (we believe) above all in Jesus’ death (that of a rebellious slave) and resurrection (God’s verdict on him). You may dispute our claims about Christ, but please do not question my sincerity in saying I am socialist, a believer in common ownership under democratic control, not in spite of, but because of those beliefs.
BOB ALLAWAY, London N22
Reply: We don’t challenge your sincerity. We just say you’re wrong: there is no evidence for the claims you make about “Jesus” and “God”. But thanks for identifying the article Marx must have had in mind when he said that the Church of England would give up 38 of its 39 articles rather than one-thirty-ninth of its income.– Editors.
I wish to ask a question – how best to describe collectively, what is the best term to use, to encompass “the ruling class”, “boss class”, “capitalist class”, “power brokers”, etc, etc? For when responding to pensioners in the supermarket. I am 81.
Reply: Any of the terms you use will do. We tend to use “capitalist class” and “ruling class”, though our Declaration of Principles uses “master class” which is a bit dated. We don’t recommend you use the word “bourgeoisie” in supermarket queues.– Editors.