E. Belfort Bax in To-day December 1887

Playing to the Gallery

Source: To-day December 1887, pp. 167-169;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

We must all admit that Comrade Champion did some service at least in bringing Socialism before the middle-classes of the West End last summer; since individuals from out these classes it is always possible to find, who may be converted and do good work. Reading papers on Socialism before the “Church Congress” will appear to most of us as rather a fatuous undertaking at best; but still even here, if a man has the leisure and inclination, there can be no possible objection to his amusing himself in this way, provided he confines himself to enunciating principles. The case is far otherwise when a well-known and generally respected member of the party demeans himself to descend to the level of his audience, and such an audience, and to talk the shop slang of the clerical trade. H.H. Champion pandering to a bench of bishops is surely not an edifying spectacle!

The Times reporter represents Champion as saying (1). “there is among the poor a strong belief in the simple doctrine of the gospel.” Can Champion honestly allege that this is true in any ordinary sense of the words used? I admit that to say that the bulk of the working-classes of England were dogmatically atheistic would be equally untrue, the fact being, as everyone knows, that the prevalent feeling among the masses respecting theological matters is that of complete indifference. (2). Champion is made to describe “the claims of labour” as in the main rightful.” Now I would like to ask what counter-claim is there which limits the rightfulness of labour’s claims; for such a limitation was plainly implied. (3). Capitalists are told that “patriotism and true religion” demand that they should take these claims into consideration. But really they didn’t want a Socialist to take the trouble to go down to the Church Congress to deliver this beautiful exhortation; the Archbishop of Canterbury or any other clergyman present could have done it quite as well and doubtless produced as much effect. But the choicest piece of demagogy which the (as I trust) malignant Times reporter has put into the mouth of Comrade Champion is the following: “He (Champion) could tell them that it was his opinion that if the spirit of the New Testament had been boldly preached to rich and poor, there would be no Socialist movement to discuss, and he believed it to be the opinion of every working-class audience he had ever addressed.” After this sally we are not surprised to read that our friend was greeted with loud cheers. How many speeches has Champion not made; how many documents has he not signed, the burden of which has been the irrefutable truth that the present condition of the working-classes is the result of the working-out of an economic law, having its roots in a necessary historical development which no amount of goody-goody preaching could help or hinder! Has Comrade Champion never heard of the great Catholic preachers of the Middle Ages? Will he say that St. Francis and his immediate followers did not preach the spirit of the New Testament boldly to rich and poor; – yet did they solve the social problem for all ages? Facilis ascensus coeli. Champion, apparently elated by the cheers of the Church Congress, is made to wind up with a brilliant peroration, suggestive of the late Mr. Samuel Morley, exhorting all Christians to drop their differences, and unite in their “common worship at the cross of Christ.” Poor, well-meaning Champion, if it’s really all true, what an effort it must have cost him to get out all this flummery, and in the mistaken belief that he is benefiting the cause, too. Of course, it was easy for one or two of the assembled clerics to show that there was not the slightest connexion between Christianity and modern Socialism; that Christianity takes its stand in the individual, Socialism in society; that the very almsgiving virtues of Christianity of which so much is made, in themselves imply the antithesis of rich and poor as permanent, &c., &c. I know that friend Champion is a young man of many admirable qualities, that if the time came for a cross of bayonets in a street fight, he would be “all there.” But, meanwhile, let him take my advice, and just leave this “Cross of Christ” alone, as it really doesn’t sit well upon him, and he is not at all likely to get the Socialist bodies to “officially accept” any form of Socialism agreeable to the “Church Congress.” Comrade Champion, it is well known, believes in the necessity of early parliamentary action for the English Socialist party; yet (judging by the Times report), he has furnished the strongest argument on the other side that I have seen. For it may be urged, if a man of Champion’s character and antecedents cannot keep decently straight, when it is only the applause of a few persons that is in question, how is it likely that (possibly) inferior men will be able to resist the many solid temptations which a parliamentary career offers. I do not say or think for one moment that this argument would be conclusive, but it would certainly be plausible. Because, rightly or wrongly, he is disappointed with the men he has had to work with in the Social Democratic Federation. Champion surely need not seek his rest in the apron of the Bishop of Derry as in an Abraham’s bosom.

I had intended writing privately to Comrade Champion to enquire whether the Times report was accurate, but on second thoughts, considering that whether true or false, it had become public property, I decided to make the enquiry through the columns of a Socialist Magazine.

Hollingen-Zürich, Oct. 10, 1887.