Ernest Belfort Bax

The New Gospel

(19 May 1894)

The New Gospel, Justice, 19th May 1894, p.4.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Christian Gospel enjoins men to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” The Socialist gospel enjoins men to “seek first the belly and its fulness.” The epilogue is the same in either case - the assurance that all other things shall be added. Let us now take each of these precepts and examine them, interpreting them respectively rather in a literal than in a liberal sense. All the ethical religions of the World start with the first of these precepts in one or another shape. It implies, in its primary form, that the first object of the individual should be to square up accounts between his conscience and the divinity. In this sense Christians have been seeking the Kingdom of God for nineteen centuries past, but they have certainly not found that all other things have been added to them, though their friends have sometimes found that some not very desirable things have been added to them. But there is also a secondary sense in which the injunction may be taken. There are many persons nowadays who, without counting themselves specially as Christians, still insist upon their kingdom of God, “culture”, “university extension,” and the like being the one thing needful. Toynbee Hall and the “Ethical Society” embody the attempt to seek first the modern “kingdom of God,” to wit, the higher culture of the individual, while despising or ignoring the struggle for the belly and its fulness which Social-Democracy represents. Yet what does the influence of such institutions amount to either in breadth or in depth in elevating the “masses,” as they are termed? How often, when successful, do they result in producing nothing but the pretentious prig? And why? Simply because the individual is taken out of the “mass,” thereby being made vain and self-conscious, while the “mass” itself is left behind in a bad way.

Let us take now the inner meaning of the Socialist precept, “Seek ye first the belly and its fulness,” etc. The “belly” here referred to is, of course not the individual but the universal “belly,” and this it is which raises the seeking from the level of a sordid occupation to that of an ideal aim. Liberally interpreted, the precept means that the highest end in life a man can have now is to aspire to contribute his share towards placing the conditions of healthy and of good living equally within the reach of all, and that all other aims should be subordinate to this one. This is the true materialism – a materialism without which all idealism is a vain deception. That squalor, grinding toil, and starvation can breed but foul social products is too self-evident, a proposition one would imagine to need enforce at length. But we go much further than this. We assert that the first condition of any higher social life is equality of economic condition and opportunity. Distinction of economic condition is fatal to anything but a bastard and a class culture. For, blink the fact as we may, with tall talk about plain living and high thinking, fact it remains, that so long as there are material wants to be satisfied, the satisfaction of these wants, the attainment of the coveted good things of life, will dwarf everything else. It is not till all men are satiated with the good things of life that we need expect any substantially higher aims from most men, and they never will be satiated while they see a class above them enjoying more than they do. Hence, never throughout human history have the full possibilities latent in human nature at any single period had full scope.

Human energy has been frittered away in attempts, successful or unsuccessful; at self-repression. Exceptional individuals have risen superior to their conditions and helped to strengthen the delusion contained in the doctrine of free-will as popularly preached and understood. But all art, all science, all literature has been, with the exceptions alluded to - which only prove the rule - the product of the small minority removed from the pressure of material needs. Yet, as it is, the stamp of class upon it has often enough degraded this culture. What may we not then expect when not merely a small fringe, and that fringe demoralised and tainted by its consciousness of being a dominant class living on others’ labour, but the whole of society, is in this position. And yet we find to-day people of a serious cast of mind among the cultured middle-classes who turn aside from the Social-Democratic gospel, with its wholesome immediate aims for the practical politician and the limitless vista which it opens up to the thinker, to hark back on the “stale cabbage” of Catholic dogma or of theosophical mysticism - and to warm up for the hundredth time, the limp, insipid, and sodden remains of worn-out faiths. So great a hold has a ready-made formula to the jingle of which the mental ear is accustomed, and so great a lack of real insight does the average man trained on the lines of class-culture command! Hence the necessity of unceasingly preaching that new gospel which enjoins men to “Seek first the belly and its fulness,” with the assurance that all other things shall be added to them and to mankind in general as soon as the one thing needful, to wit, the “low, grovelling material” concerns of mankind’s body, have ceased to be subdued, either by the freewill of the individual or the compulsion of social circumstance and have received their own again. This is the materialistic religion of Socialism.


E. Belfort Bax


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