Ernest Belfort Bax

Idealogic Social Forces

(13 June 1896)

Idealogic Social Forces, Justice, 13th June, 1896, p.4 & 5.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Mr. Gladstone, it seems, is very anxious to re-unite “Christendom,” and especially the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches. So they say is the Pope also. Both these old gentlemen are accordingly comparing notes on how to do it. The immediate question is, we understand, whether the Pope can induce the Consistory to consent to recognise what are called “Anglican Orders.” The precise point at which the negotiation stands at the present time is, however, immaterial. The interesting point is that it has been undertaken, and for the first time since the Reformation seems not altogether outside the pale of realisation in the near future. Modern “Anglicanism” we may fairly regard in the light of an elaborate “spoof” of the English middle-classes of leisure and artistic tastes. Catholicism means undoubtedly more than this. Its enormous wealth, its hold on the peasant populations of certain portions of the continent, and above all its international character, all contribute to give it an importance quite independent of the intrinsic merits of its dogmatic position. But even as regards this latter it has the advantage of a thorough-going logicality possessed by none of the sects which have detached themselves from it.

Our chief concern as Socialists, however, is to point out the “true inwardness” of the present movement from the point of view of the proletarian advance. Whence the sudden interest in the “re-union of Christendom,” we hear so much about on all sides? It is, partly no doubt, due to a growing sense of the old dogmatic catchwords having lost their power, of the steady trend of men’s minds towards leaving heavenly things to the sparrows and the angels, as Heine put it. The “divisions of Christians” are sometimes falsely credited with having materially contributed to this result by people who have no notion of the deeper currents involved in such changes of mental attitude as that shown (say) by the middle-class Englishman of to-day as against him of a generation ago. As a consequence, the first idea with such is – let Christendom unite, and Christendom will again be strong. Similarly, in the early centuries of the Christian era, when the great introspective creed, Christianity, was slowly absorbing the ancient nature and tribal worships, there was the great movement of the Neo-Platonists which sought to revive the out-worn faiths and ceremonies of Paganism by combining them all under one formula which should recognise all their “orders.” This “treatment,” notwithstanding, did not keep the ancient Pagan faiths alive, neither, we opine, will it cure the modern Christian of its sickness unto death. But behind the desire of sentimental and religious persons to give Christianity a longer lease of life, there is the deeper feeling of the necessity of opposing the ideal side of modern civilisation – the Christian religion – to the Ideal of Socialism, if modern civilisation, in any form or shape, is to hold its own. Even with the nominal adherents of the churches the interest in dogma is dulled. It is as an ideal of human life and conduct that they like to dwell upon and propagandise their creed.

Hence the question resolves itself into a struggle between the ideals of a capitalism tempered by a theological sense of personal responsibility to society in and through God or Church, and Socialism, which contains within itself the postulate of a moral sense of collective responsibility of each to all and of all to each irrespective of God or Church. We know the value of that “reformation” which comes from within and which is supposed to act downwards by means of personal initiative upon the symptoms of economic evil (only usually does not even do that) but without touching its foundation. Socialism, in contradistinction to this, means the revolution which starts from the social-economic root and works upward to the springs of individual action. As a Catholic recently said to me “we repudiate Mammonism whether it be the Mammonism of Capitalism or of Social-Democracy.” He would, of course, get rid of Mammonism by sustaining a capitalistic society under the leadership of the “spiritual” hierarchy of Catholicism. The only true obvious and Socialistic solution, rendering the microbe of “Mammonism” innocuous by inoculating the whole of society with sufficient Mammon to prevent its ever again contracting Mammonism, remained, I need scarcely say, quite outside his range of ideas.

The other way of dealing with it, by inculcating in the masses a noble disregard for all things carnal, is clearly a mere congenial method alike for an ecclesiastical hierarchy as for the possessing classes of modern society generally. But nevertheless it is well too that the working classes and all others whom it may concern should clearly understand that there is only one alternative immediately before them to Socialism as a definitely conscious goal – to wit, the conservation of the capitalist system, in a slightly mitigated form, perhaps, under the aegis of the idealogical side of modern civilisation, furbished up to suit the needs of the new conditions – i.e., Christianity. But it will assuredly be not the sort of Christianity which it is the fashion of “Labour leaders” to utilise as flavouring for their oratory – “Glory to God in the highest,” “ Christ the labour man,” and flapdoodle of that order. It will be a Christianity embodied in a definite international organ and exercising a definite international function as the buffer between the exploiting minority and the exploited majority of the civilised world.

It is this that the more far-seeing of the possessing classes have fixed their eyes on, and they are quite right from their point of view. The specious power of the doctrine which proclaims that the love of money is the root of all evil and which proclaims also “Blessed are ye poor,” with the precept to take no heed for the things of the earth but to fix one’s attention on the things within and above, though scotched, is unhappily not killed as yet. Of this we have evidence every day. The abstract notion of renunciation and self-abnegation for its own sake has a wonderful charm for mankind still, and may even yet be revived to their advantage by those who know how. Hence the Christian doctrine of the great personal renunciation of the lower man it behoves us now more strenuously than ever to oppose, with the Socialist doctrine of his great collective satisfaction. This latter once accomplished, it will be time to proceed effectively to the next question, but not before.


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 26.5.2004