E. Belfort Bax

Pity the Poor Papist

(18 January 1908)

Pity the Poor Papist, Justice, 18th January 1908, p.9. (letter)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

DEAR COMRADE, – On reading the extraordinary production in your issue of January 4 from the pen of C.H. Norman, I was in doubt whether to regard the writer as a smart and well-seasoned joker who wrote things sarcastic, or as only a nice young man suffering from an attack of nerves due to Christmas indigestion.

That an agent of the Roman Church in this country should vary his occupation of talking twaddle to fashionable audiences about their sins with inditing cheap Utopian romances, painting in lurid colours the fearful persecution destined to be inflicted by the wicked Socialist on the votaries of an organisation which in its day has reduced persecution for opinion to a method and a system, is, of course, all in order. That Mr. Benson should in this way contribute his quota to the capitalist campaign against Socialism, belongs, of course, to his trade. But what is surprising is that Justice should devote two and a half columns to the stuff. So far from agreeing with Mr Norman that as a criticism of Socialism it is “of the first importance” I am convinced that most Socialists, if they take the trouble to read the rubbish at all, will throw it aside as a silly piece of clerical claptrap, on a slightly lower level, if that were possible, than other productions of the anti-Socialist campaign now being waged.

Mr. Norman, whose diatribe reads like the lamentations of an encyclical, deplores the fact that the “continual denunciations of Christianity which we read in Socialist and Freethinking papers increase in vehemence as time goes on!” (More power to the elbow of the “Socialist and Freethinking papers,” most of us will say.) Mr. Bishop Norman gasps an episcopal sigh over the “bigotry of the 1907 Atheist and Agnostic.” One would suggest that he adduces a single instance of the terrible bigotry he deplores! The fact is, this talk one hears so often now about anti-religious bigotry is all so much cant and humbug designed by enemies and false friends of progress to shield the real bigotry against which the attack of Socialists and Freethinkers is directed. Does bigotry mean strength of conviction or indignation against wrong? Socialism stands for human emancipation – economic, political, and intellectual. In pursuance of the last-mentioned the consistent Socialist is the relentless foe of dogma. While tolerant of all opinions, as opinions, on the supernatural or anything else, he is remorseless against dogmatic creeds and the organisations representing them, just as he is remorseless against class domination anti capitalist exploitation, together with the institutions through which they function.

If determination to “ecraser l’infame” is “bigotry” then I trust most of us will say the more we have of it the better! It is an old story – this whine of intolerance to be protected from counter-intolerance, this snivel of bigotry to be saved from counter-bigotry. It is the way of the Christian persecutor of all ages to cringingly beg only for a little tolerance – nothing more. Has Mr Norman ever read the fable of the man who warmed the viper in his bosom? Verb sap. Has he (to deal only with the present day) ever heard of blasphemy laws, and does he know that in Austria anyone who refuses to salute a religious procession is liable to arrest and imprisonment? Verily Mr Benson’s vaticinations on the persecution the poor oppressed papist is destined to be subject to at the hands of the “agnostic humanitarianism” of the future must have been written, one would think, with an eye to the humour of a Christmas pantomime.

The desperate attempts now being made in some quarters, by all sorts of devices, to spike the guns of those who see in Clericalism and organised dogma mongering an enemy to he combated to the death, have happily, up to the present time, been frustrated by the common sense of the Socialist movement as a whole. The attack goes on in spite of exhortations to the tolerance of intolerance. But the power of priestcraft to capture guileless youth by its blandishments and use it as a cat’s paw, even where one would least expect it, is evidently not a danger that has passed away. There is no doubt that one of the test strongholds of capitalism will be organised dogma, especially as represented by the Catholic Church. What, in Germany, is the greatest bulwark of the existing order against the advance of Social-Democracy among the people, it not that very Catholic Church as embodied in the party of the “Centre” There is no doubt that the truculent Church will whine loudly enough for mercy and toleration when it finds itself driven into a corner. It has tried this game on in France over the very mild law of Briand, and will doubtless play the same card out as a trump again and again.

If it is bigotry to proclaim war to the knife with the intellectual enslavement of the people, it is bigotry to do the same with their economical enslavement, or even with their political enslavement, with both of which it is so intimately connected. All Socialists and even Radicals are bigots in this case. The fact is, the real danger lies not in that strength of determination to oppose the enemies of human emancipation all round which for Mr. Norman is “blatant bigotry” but, in the movement being swamped in the slush of a maudlin “tolerance” of that intolerable thing which itself knows no toleration. Long live the wholesome “bigotry” of “agnostic humanitarianism” and of Socialism, is the heartfelt wish of yours fraternally,


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 8.8.2004