Ernest Belfort Bax

Problems of Mind
and Morals

Chapter V
The Problem of the Hearth, the Throne, and the Altar

THERE is an unmistakable tendency at the present time on the part of many of the champions of Socialism in current political life, especially in the rough and tumble of electioneering, to endeavour to limit the definition of the term Socialism to the politico-economic issue in the narrower sense, in other words, apart from its bearing on other departments of human life. The opponents of Socialism among the reactionary political parties, on the other hand, are just as eager to bring into relief the extra-economic implications of Socialism as the former are to suppress them or to keep them in the background. From a vote-catching point of view it is felt by Socialist wire-pullers of electioneering to be disadvantageous to have doctrines obnoxious to large sections of the middle classes obtruded upon a free and independent electorate.

Now there are three main questions of social and political import which are, per se, outside the sphere of economic relations, yet upon which Socialism, as most persons conceive, is called upon to give a pronouncement, and respecting which, as most logically-minded Socialists contend, the general tenor, at least, of that pronouncement can hardly be considered as doubtful. These three subjects are what I have designated in the title of this chapter by the well-known phrase, “The Throne, the Hearth, and the Altar.” By the first of these designations, “Throne,” I understand a given national state-system into which one has been born, in contradistinction to other corresponding and competing national state-systems into which it so happens one has not been born. The figure-head of such state-system, in most existing countries, is the monarch, or sovereign, as indicated by the word “Throne”; but the form of government is really immaterial in this connection, though Socialism as such presupposes Republicanism as its only true political form. The term “Throne,” in short, is for present purposes taken to mean the sentiment of patriotism expressed in the phrase, “my country, right or wrong!” The term “Hearth” is taken in the sense of indicating the domestic relation of which, as at present constituted, the institution of legalised and life-long monogamic marriage is the corner-stone. The expression “Altar,” it is scarcely necessary to say, covers religious belief and worship in the widest acceptation of those terms.

Now let us first of all consider the general implications of Socialism, i.e. of the Socialistic idea, before dealing with these three subjects separately. The primary demand of modern scientific Socialism is, as we all know, an economic one, to wit, the common ownership, control, and management of the land and the means of production. This is the material basis of human life as reconstituted by Socialism. But, without here entering, at length, into the knotty points involved in the controversy respecting what is termed the “materialistic theory of history” of Marx and its interpretation, it will hardly be denied by any modern student of history that a deep and far-reaching revolution cannot take place in the production and distribution of wealth, or, in other words, in the material conditions of society, without at the same time powerfully affecting its thought and its mode of life generally. So much I think will be conceded. Then, again, the term Socialism, which dates from the early decades of the nineteenth century, as embodied in the great Utopian systems (as they are termed) of Owen, Saint Simon, and Fourier respectively, – the term Socialism, I say, always implied the reconstruction of human life generally – a reconstruction, conceived no less as involving the intellectual and moral, than the material, side of life. That the Socialistic idea in its modern form in the same way, mutatis mutandis, also involves this, and, indeed, that these other aspects of life are, in the long run, no less its concern than the material basis which is its primary objective, is shown by the vain attempts of time-serving politicians to narrow it down to the pure and simple politico-economic formula. Notwithstanding the protestations of these time-serving politicians, neither friend nor foe seems disposed to accept their assertions unreservedly in this respect. It is well enough known what are the views, at least in their general tendency, of the majority of Socialists as regards the questions to which we are referring.

It will be denied by few that Socialists are not patriots in the ordinary sense of the term. It is recognised that to the bulk of Socialists Socialism implies a change in the present relations between the sexes in the direction of greater freedom or, I should rather say, perhaps, of the absence of the coercion, legal or otherwise, at present exercised by society over the individual in these matters. Again, as regards religion, there can be no doubt whatever that the enormous majority of Socialists do not accept, in any sense whatever, the dogmas of any traditional creed. It is an acknowledged fact that most Socialists are atheists or agnostics, or secularists, if the term be preferred. I am referring, of course, to Socialists, sans phrase, not to hybrids who may choose to label themselves Christian Socialists, whatever that may mean. While these foregoing statements, I think, are not to be gainsaid, it is useless blinking the fact that the Socialist for whom vote-catching is the one thing needful is always desirous of keeping these points of view in the background. Some, while admitting them to be in the last resort inseparable from Socialism, would have them treated as an esoteric or secret doctrine not to be obtruded on those not yet converted to the central economic principle. Some there are, however, who would maintain that there is no necessary connection at all between them and Socialism. Such are those who would confine the word Socialism within the four corners of a purely economic definition. In a word, they challenge the views of the majority of Socialists on these subjects, as not being necessarily deducible from the central principle of Socialism. This brings us back to the consideration of what constitutes the essence of the Socialistic principle.

It would be, of course, absurd to allege that the adoption of any, or all, of the palliatives on the programme of the Socialist party in most countries involved the acceptance of any special views respecting patriotism or anti-patriotism, marriage or free-love, theology or secularism, etc. But then, on the other hand, most, if not all, of these immediate palliatives of the present system of society (housing proposals, feeding school children, extension of old age pensions, etc., etc.) could be, and undoubtedly are, accepted by many Radicals, who would, nevertheless, not consider themselves Socialists at all. It may be readily admitted that for the purposes of any given election these ulterior things are quite irrelevant, and, from this point of view, there would be no reason why the most devout Nonconformist or Churchman might not vote for a Socialist candidate. But, I submit, the matter is very different when we are dealing, not with current Socialistic proposals, but with Socialism as a coherent ideal of human life and society and of the Socialist party considered as an organisation whose final goal is the realisation of this ideal. Here one has to consider the matter in all its bearings.

Socialism, it is said, is an economic doctrine. True, but it is an economic doctrine inseparably bound up with an ideal concerning human life and development. And if we analyse this ideal we find it to involve, in the last resort, the old triad, Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, translated into the conditions of modern progress. The modern Socialist recognises that only through the economic change he postulates, from individual to collective ownership of the distribution, and exchange, can Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity be realised. The old attempts to realise them have conspicuously failed. The liberty aimed at by Socialism is freedom of development for the individual as for Society. This liberty the Socialist sees to be impossible under a regime of private property-holding in the means of production. All the existing trammels on freedom, alike for the individual and for Society, the Socialist finds traceable, in the last resort, to the system of private ownership in these means of production.

The institution of private property, which, in earlier stages of Society, played its part as a guarantee of freedom and progress, has, in these latter days, become a stumbling block and a hindrance – in a word, the enemy of progress. But although this economic side of life is at the centre, so to say, of things human, and although nothing human can escape its influence, yet there are, nevertheless, departments which do not lie directly and immediately under its domination. The modifications in these departments necessarily affected by the economic change, real though they be, are indirect and require time to work themselves out. The departments referred to are the intellectual and ethical sides of human life. Now, for our present purpose, these departments fall mainly under the three headings of, as I have here termed them, “Throne, Hearth, and Altar” – in a word, the present ideals of patriotism, of marriage, and of religion, together with the transformation or modification of these ideals involved by Socialism.

Let us, first of all, take the patriotic idea as at present understood. This means that a duty exists for every man to regard his country, that is, the particular state-system into which he has been born, together with the soil and its inhabitants, with a devotion over and above that in which he regards other countries and their inhabitants, or humanity at large, and, as a consequence, to be prepared to sacrifice everything, including life itself, for this said country. Now, the Socialist criticism of this sentiment of patriotism I take to be is as follows: – The existing state-systems with which the sentiment of patriotism, as understood to-day, is concerned, are really recent creations. In antiquity, patriotism had sole reference to a very circumscribed community, namely, the city which had itself grown out of the tribal community. Abydos, Thebes, Babylon, Jerusalem, Sparta, Athens, Rome, were cities boasting a city-patriotism, which was reflected in the ancestral cults which constituted their religion. There was, at this stage, no centralised power embracing huge populations in vast extents of territory. The so-called empires of the ancient world were, as a rule, no more than loose confederacies, the bond holding them together being usually forced on the tribes and cities included in them, by right of conquest and superior might, and imposed, not for the sake of the internal organisation of Society, which was under local and tribal jurisdiction, but solely for the sake of enforced military service and of tribute. Such confederacies were the so-called empires of Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt, Persia. Round these amorphous heterogeneously composed aggregates no serious and lasting sentiment of patriotism either did, or could, gather. This sentiment, as already said, obtained exclusively, as regards the civic and tribal units comprised within them.

Turning to the Middle Ages, we find, as far as this matter is concerned, substantially a similar condition of things. The unit of political social life in the Middle Ages was the manor and (especially in the later period of the Middle Ages) the industrially organised township. Italy, Germany, France, and even England (although the remark applies less here than in the other cases), were little more than assemblages of manors and townships. And it was to these, rather than to what we now term the nation, that the sentiment of patriotism attached. The modern nation-state grew up on the ruins of mediaeval feudalism concurrently with the rise of the new conditions of industry which subsequently developed into the modern system of capitalism. National patriotism thus, as conceived to-day, first attained its zenith under the aegis of the modern capitalist system. Now, in these latter days, Socialists find this sentiment of national patriotism, itself a product of the capitalistic period, is being exploited wholly and solely in the interests of capitalistic schemes of aggrandisement, expansion, acquirement of new markets, of cheap native labour, of the mineral wealth of undeveloped countries, etc., etc.

From this short historical excursus it will be readily imagined that an antipathy should exist between Patriotism and Socialism. This is the more evident when we consider that the expansive exploits of modern capitalism under the aegis of the various national flags, for the most part carried on with the blood and sinew of the proletariat, not only subserve no other immediate purpose than that of making rich men richer, but do actually further what is for the Socialist a very sinister ulterior purpose, namely, that of prolonging the life of the capitalist system, which must either continuously enlarge the sphere of its operations, or perish, as a system, by becoming transformed into Socialism. Add to this the further fact that the economic tendency is towards the knitting together in an indissoluble union of the whole world, but more especially of the nations in the van of progress, i.e. those under the domination of the capitalist system – Europe, America, the European colonies, and now, Japan. Modern commerce, industry, means of communication, science and art, all of them are essentially inter-national. As the local centre of old, the manor or township, from being self-sufficing in its wants became dependent on the province and then on the nation, so now each nation is ceasing more and more to be self-sufficing – is becoming more and more merely a semi-dependent section of the whole civilised world.

But although this affords the economic clue to the Internationalism of the modern Socialist party, there is, also, as before pointed out, an ethical expression of this Internationalism. This ethical expression consists in the instinct, if you will, that Internationalism is an essential element in the realisation of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. But here comes the rub – Is Socialism not merely International, but also anti-national? Is the antipathy between Socialism and Patriotism so thorough-going as to make of the logical Socialist an anti-patriot? This is the question for some time past agitating the International Socialist Party. On the one side, it is alleged that, though the tendency of Socialism is towards the elimination, not merely of national jealousies, but also of national barriers generally, yet the Socialist, as a practical man, has to make up his account with things as they are. Now national state-systems exist and colonial empires based upon them. Nay, more than this, the nation, being the modern political unit, having its community of law, tradition, custom, language, etc., etc., the Socialist party itself is organised on the basis of nationality, and, therefore, the maintenance of the integrity of the nation against aggression is, as things are at present, as much incumbent on Socialists as on anyone else.

On the other hand, it is urged that while conceding the point last mentioned, to wit, the right of any existing nation to independence within its own frontiers as against any other nation, yet that this point is, to the proletariat and to the Socialist, a somewhat “academic” one. The existing national state-systems, it is pointed out, represent class-interest and class-domination; hence, while not denying the right of one of these state-systems to defend itself against another, viewing the matter from the standpoint of present society, it is nevertheless contended that even such defence, justifiable though it may be from the foregoing standpoint, is no affair of the class-conscious proletariat or of the Socialist. With this is involved, of course, the burning question of anti-militarism now agitating the International Socialist Party, and the discussion of which played such an important part in the proceedings at Stuttgart in 1907, where August Bebel took one side and Gustave Hervé the other. Nerve is the most prominent exponent of the position that the logical outcome of the Internationalism of modern Socialist movement involves the adoption of an anti-national and anti-patriotic attitude. For Hervé and his party, so powerful in France, patriotism, in any shape or form, is incompatible with the fundamental ethical postulate of Socialism. On the other hand, Bebel and others, who take a different view as regards the question of patriotism and military service, draw a sharp distinction between offensive and defensive war, a war of aggression and a war of defence against invasion. There is a wide-spreading feeling, however, in the party that this distinction is in the present day dangerous in tendency and largely illusory. I allude to sections of the party who by no means adopt the extreme views of Hervé in this matter. Karl Kautzy, for example, in a recent number of the Neue Zeit, while justly urging that the crucial point is, not whether a war is offensive or defensive from a national point of view, but whether it would subserve the interests of the proletariat or democracy generally, remarks that “in the existing political situation a war in which a proletarian or democratic interest would be concerned is hardly conceivable. The only danger of war to-day,” he says, “threatens from the side of Colonial expansion, and to this the proletariat is, in principle, opposed.” In other words, modern military patriotism is hardly likely to be called into requisition, save either for the deprivation of some weaker or backward people of its independence, or as regards a thieves’ quarrel as to the respective share of two or more capitalist states in the plunder of this people.

The above is crucially illustrated, among recent events, by the adventure of France in Morocco – not to speak of our own Boer War and other Colonial complications. But if the foregoing be true – and that it is so in the main there can be, I think, no doubt – it follows surely that the fundamental contention of Herve is, to the logically minded Socialist, justified. The question then reduces itself to one of means. And how far the general military strike in the event of a declaration of war as proposed by Hervé in the case of France is a possible, or, at least, the most suitable, weapon, remains, of course, an open question, and one which does not specially concern us here. My main point is, that, looking at the matter all round, even if we went so far as to justify participation by Socialists in a war of national defence, where the independence of a given nationality was seriously threatened by an external Power – even then, as Kautzy says, this contingency is practically impossible to arise in the present state of world-politics as between any of the great world-powers – in short, it is hardly conceivable that one great Power should be able to crush or enslave another great Power in the present day. This we have seen crucially illustrated as far back as the Franco-German War of 1870. The most it could do would be to steal some of that great Power’s oversea possessions, a proceeding which, in the general way, need not seriously perturb the Socialists. What we have to remember is, that, so far as it is genuine, the International character of Socialism is no mere phrase. The Socialist feels that he belongs first and foremost to the International Socialist Party, and, as such, that his Socialist comrades of other lands stand nearer to him than his non-Socialist countrymen. He is a Socialist first and an Englishman, Frenchman, German, afterwards. As a consequence it seems to me futile to deny that Socialism is, alike as regards its economic basis, its historical evolution, and its fundamental ethical postulates, inconsistent with patriotism, according to any definition of that word current at the present time.

Having dealt necessarily in a cursory manner with what I conceive to be the relation of Socialism to the Throne, understanding by this the idea of country or nationality, we will now proceed shortly to discuss its relation to the Hearth, i.e. the question of the Family. One of the great outcries against Socialism on the part of the reactionary Press is that it would destroy the Family, break up the Home, introduce free-love, etc. One opponent of Socialism, in the ardour of his indignation, recently expressed his horror at the fact that Socialism would destroy the institution of marriage, as it existed throughout Christendom to-day, “to replace it by something even worse!” Socialists, I am sure, will all hope and trust that such a terrible result may be spared us. However this may be, there is one thing that strikes me somewhat painfully in the agitation raised by reactionaries anent this question, and that is, the cowardice of many professing Socialists in their attitude towards it. I do not wish to particularise, but to see the way in which well-known Socialists, in replying to challenges on this question, are literally tumbling over each other in their efforts to abase themselves before the shrine of Mrs Grundy, not hesitating to contradict themselves, and to eat their own words the while, is, to me, personally, not a pleasant spectacle, not to use a stronger expression.

And what is meant by all this maundering talk about the idyllic perfection for all time of the enforced marriage relation as it exists at present, irrespective of diversities of temperament and character? – what is meant by all these protestations of an undying devotion to asceticism as the ideal of life in this connection? – what, I say, is the occasion of all this grovelling? I am afraid we must answer, it is the cant of bourgeois respectability, in itself, on the one side, but more especially as associated with the inordinate desire for immediate success at the polls on the other. Now I venture to think that all the asseverations of unshakable and undying adhesion to the current conventional views on the question of sexual relations are, from the point of view of logically thought-out Socialistic doctrine, hardly less untenable than are the wild and one-sided assertions of the reactionary Press to the effect that Socialism advocates promiscuity in the relations of the sexes. I take it that Socialism has its own point of view in this as in other matters, and that this point of view is radically distinct from, or even in some respects opposed to, that of the bourgeois morality and its sanctions in this matter.

Let us look this question squarely in the face. Say the opponents of Socialism, “You Socialists would abolish Marriage and destroy the Family!” Now the first question which suggests itself here is what form of Marriage and what form of the Family? He who makes the assertion, as a rule, pretty obviously thinks that the only possible form of the Family is the existing compulsory life-long monogamy, as by law established, together with the children resulting therefrom, if there are any. But I need scarcely remind the educated reader that this form of Marriage and the Family, as established amongst us, is itself the result of a long evolution, for the various stages of which the works of Maclennan, Morgan, Bachofen, Engels, Gerard-Teulon, Hobhouse, Havelock Ellis, and others may be consulted. Suffice it here to say that this evolution, beginning in the far distant past of early man (perhaps with promiscuity), has passed through a variety of phases, various forms of group-marriage (by which is to be understood the men of one group having marital rights over the women of another group, and vice versa); polygamy in its various forms, culminating in the so-called patriarchal family, through diverse stages of transitory marital relation, till we come to the, at least nominal, life-long monogamy as established by law throughout Christendom in the present day – which last constitutes for the modern bourgeois, not merely the final term of an evolutionary series (beyond which further evolution is impossible and undesirable), but an institution obtaining by a kind of Divine Right for all peoples and all times.

That the form of marriage and the family relation in any given society is determined by the modes that society produces and distributes its wealth is a commonplace to students of anthropology and the early history of institutions, and will, I think, be denied by no scientific Socialist in the present day. This, however, by the way. Now, unfortunately for the opponent of Socialism who professes to regard the present form of the marriage relation as the final limit of perfectibility, (as has been often enough pointed out) the existing family relations have already been destroyed by the very conditions of their existence under the great machine industry of Capitalism for the bulk of the proletariat. They were eminently suited for the small handicraft industry of former times, in which all the family assisted one another. But with each member of the family competing with each other member in the factory, the old family relation has been undermined. This at one end of the social scale. At the other, amongst the higher strata of the ruling classes in Europe at the present time, the institution of the morganatic or left-handed marriage (not to speak of various forms of non-legitimate sexual relationship) is in direct contravention of the monogamic principle. Such are the facts, and they have often been stated.

In short, the old monogamic family relation is already undermined in more than one direction. (I do not know whether there are any who seriously contemplate the possibility of its rehabilitation on the old basis either with Socialism or without Socialism. If there be such, I would only point out to them that experience has not hitherto been favourable to attempts to put back the hands of the clock.) The historical Theory of Socialism proclaims the more or less indissoluble connection of all forms of human life with the economic form. It tells us that the forms assumed by the marital and family relations throughout history are, like other social forms, at least largely, if not entirely, dependent upon the material, the economic conditions of the life of a society, and change with these conditions. So much for the evolutionary side of the question.

We come now to the important practical point whether an unconditional acceptance of the present basis of the marital relation, with all its implications, in a word, of the current sexual morality, is consistent with the fundamental ethical postulates of Socialism. We have already signalised the direct aim of Socialism as the realisation of the principles of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Now with Equality and Fraternity this particular question has perhaps only an indirect connection. But with Liberty it has a very direct connection indeed. Let us consider for a moment what Liberty means for Socialism. Socialism, in spite of the abusive assertions of its enemies, has for its end, I say, the realisation of human liberty. It is true the liberty it seeks to realise is a real liberty and not a sham liberty, a concrete liberty and not a merely formal and abstract liberty. Hence in the attempt to achieve the real thing it is often necessary to destroy the sham. In championing true liberty, Socialism is prepared to demonstrate the false liberty (e.g. the sham free contract between capitalist and workman demanded by the Manchester school) to be incompatible with liberty, in fact, the negation of liberty (such liberty being, in fact, the source and foundation of modern wage-slavery). Socialism can further show that real human liberty, for each and all, can only be secured by the economic conditions of human life being in the possession and under the regulation of the whole community. Any apparent sacrifice of liberty which this may entail on the part of some, Socialism can prove is the sacrifice of a merely empty and formal liberty in favour of a real liberty for each and all alike.

The allegations of the enemies of Socialism to the effect that Socialism implies the violent ruin of the heart and the destruction of all existing domestic relations (combined with the forcible introduction of something they are pleased to call “free-love”), is, of course, a false and grotesque travesty respecting which an intelligent reader need not concern himself. Socialism, I repeat, stands for liberty. It means the emancipation of mankind from all forms of slavery. In its political and economic emancipation is included the emancipation from all other forms of slavery. Socialism, it has been said by Engels, implies the substitution of the administration of things for the direct coercion of persons. Now I do not see that we can draw the line here at the domestic relation. Socialism, I contend, while in no way hostile in principle to the strictest life-long monogamy, is also not necessarily hostile to forms of the sexual or family relation deviating from the present theoretical standard in this matter. What I do say is incompatible with Socialism, is the coercion of men and women in their private life. I do say that the principle of toleration here, as elsewhere, in private or self-regarding matters, is absolute with Socialism.

Those who think otherwise on this question simply wish to maintain a system of tyranny over their neighbour. Mr Ramsay Macdonald, in his preface to the translation of Enrico Ferri’s book, Socialism and Science, – in which Professor Ferri criticises the present institution of marriage, – while admitting the impossibility of determining the precise form the family relation is likely to take under Socialism, nevertheless seeks to conciliate the orthodox view generally by assuming the possibility of a Socialist administration “frowning” upon any other form of the marital relation than the conventional one. Now if by “frowning” Mr Macdonald means to imply, as I suppose he does, some form of legal or moral coercion, then, I maintain, such an administration would be, in spirit, as reactionary and as anti-Socialistic as the Russian autocracy itself. Any society which refuses elementary personal liberty, no matter on what point, to its members, is, I maintain, doomed to perish sooner rather than later.

I do not hesitate to say that any attempt, whether by direct coercion in form of law or by indirect coercion in the form of public opinion, to compel two persons to remain together who wish to separate or, having separated, to seek to deprive them of the exercise of their personal liberty in the formation of new ties, is an act of tyrannical oppression, radically incompatible with Socialist principle. I contend that toleration in this matter is of the essence of Socialism. The contrary simply amounts to coercion exercised in favour of a particular opinion. For the persons who desire this pretend to think, and they may be right, that life-long monogamy is the ideal sexual relation. They ignore the somewhat numerous cases in which to the unsophisticated person its ideal nature may seem somewhat to be lacking. They ignore difference of character. But, whether rightly or wrongly, having come to the conclusion that it is ideal for all temperaments, they are not content to rest the acceptance of this ideal on its intrinsic excellence, but they seek to convert it into a procrustean bed upon which to stretch unwilling persons, i.e. persons who, upon practical or other grounds, think differently. This is certainly un-Socialistic. For, I repeat, I cannot but maintain that while Socialism in no wise dogmatises on the subject of the marriage relation, it does imply complete toleration in theory and practice.

The regulative function of society in this matter should properly begin, not with cohabitation between man and woman, which is a personal matter considered in itself, but with the appearance on the scene of offspring. We must learn to separate the two things. They are often in practice dissociated. It is well known that about a third of the marriages contracted in this country are childless. Now while society in its corporate capacity has no right, as I contend, either by law or public opinion, to interfere with the sexual liberty of the individual per se, it has an undoubted right to have a word to say on the question of children – nay, it has a duty to perform in seeing that its future citizens are well brought up and properly cared for. This, however, is a wide and important question. My point lies in emphasising the distinction between mere co-habitation, which should be a matter of private agreement, and the question of offspring. It is with the latter alone that a society based upon rational principles has the right to concern itself, in the sense of practical interference with individual liberty. The former is a matter of opinion and private taste. To put my position in a few words. Marriage under Socialism is a pure and free agreement of cohabitation between two persons, with which, as such, the State or community has no more direct concern than with any other private agreement. Not even the most liberal divorce laws would amount to the same as this, since all systems of divorce presuppose the right of interference by the State in a private and personal arrangement. So much on the question of the relation of Socialism to the Hearth. We now pass on to its relation to the Altar, understanding thereby its attitude towards Christianity and, for that matter, any other traditional dogmatic creed.

Modern, or scientific, Socialism, claims to be a doctrine based on the economic analysis of modern capitalist production and on the facts of historic evolution. It has for its ideal the realisation of, as nearly as the nature of things permit, a perfect society here below and not a heaven for the individual soul up above. Now, a theory which bases itself on reasoned conclusions, on science and law, and is concerned with the relation of the individual to his fellow-men and to society, can hardly be altogether compatible with another theory claiming to be a divine revelation and concerning itself mainly, if not exclusively, with the relation of the individual soul to an alleged Supreme Author of the Universe.

That there is a certain opposition between the two theories, alike in logic and in fact, seems to many of us self-evident. The man who bases his view of things on the uniformity of nature and the law of evolution, and whose aims and hopes are centred on the mundane affairs of human society here below, if he be possessed of a logical instinct, can hardly with sincerity accept a theory for which mundane affairs are of necessity of very secondary importance, since the one thing needful is that each individual soul should look to the squaring-up of its accounts with the Divinity who is its Maker. As a matter of fact, we observe that it is almost invariably the case that a man who interests himself very seriously in the affairs of his own soul is not very keen as to the mundane issues of social progress; while, conversely, a man who is keen on political and social issues does not find much time for the private affairs of his own soul. I have often observed with that curious hybrid, the Christian Socialist, that, beginning as such, he almost invariably either becomes an out-and-out Socialist, when his Christianity disappears, or becomes attenuated to little more than a name, or he becomes an earnest Christian, when his Socialism vanishes or evaporates into a few phrases.

What we see at the present day as regards this question of religion or, more properly, of theology, among the masses of this country, is, that they are completely indifferent in the matter. There is a general feeling, implicit or explicit, among them that religion, in the sense of theology, is something not so much formally discarded, as outgrown and left behind. It is under these conditions that the religion of Socialism, the true religion of humanity, makes appeal to them. The class-conscious Socialist workman feels, as Lassalle put it, that he is raising the ideal of his class to be the ideal of his age, that he is working through his classhood for humanity. I do not think, then, that Socialism can be said to be other than very definitely non-Christian and non-Theistic.

But if this be true, I cannot agree that it is possible for Socialism to maintain an attitude of sheer indifference, as some would have it, to current religions, entrenching itself within the water-tight compartments of its central economic formula. The current creeds may be hard stricken, but they are not as yet dead. They still have an influence with not inconsiderable sections of the population, and that influence is, from a Socialistic point of view, almost invariably for mischief. Hence I cannot regard the war against clericalism and dogma, under certain circumstances at least, as not a necessary side of Socialist propaganda. Still less from the point of view of consistency and straightforwardness can I reconcile myself to the assertion so often repeated for electioneering purposes, that Socialism is not opposed to any theological creed. Of course there are two things to be distinguished here. Socialism is, correctly speaking, a scientific doctrine and ethical ideal of social life; but Socialism is also, though incorrectly, identified with programmes of certain immediate reforms to be carried out if possible in the next Parliament. As I have before said, a man may very well approve of and vote for measures, a legal eight hours’ day, the feeding of children in public schools, a progressive income tax, old age pensions, etc., etc., while remaining a conscientious Churchman or Nonconformist. But, then, these things, though advocated by Socialists as stepping-stones and palliatives, are not Socialism and have no pretensions to being so. They are merely Socialistic legislation. For those who accept Socialism itself as a doctrine and an ideal it is scarcely possible, I think, to conscientiously describe themselves as Christians or even Theists, at least in any sense of those words legitimated by either popular or historical usage. They connote implicitly, if not explicitly, a different order of ideas from that to which the understanding Socialist has subscribed.

What, then, shall we say of the cry now being dinned into our ears by reactionary politicians on the platform and in the Press anent Socialism being identified with Atheism? Do these persons pretend to believe that Socialists aim at a drastic inquisition into private beliefs and sentiments, or even at a rigorous suppression of all forms of public worship? To hear them and read them one would think they did; but they are too clever for this. What they really profess to be indignant at, when closely viewed, is seen to be the threatened abolition by Socialism of the tyrannical action of dogma, cultus, and tradition, upon the thoughts and actions of men. It is this complete freeing of the human mind from the bondage of authority in these matters, the complete secularisation of human life in this sense, that they dread.

The scare and prejudice sought to be got up by reactionary journals on the subject of Socialism and Atheism is, as we all know, started with the more immediate object of detaching the votes of certain persons, Nonconformist and others, from the Socialist candidate at elections. Now, the psychological condition of these electors who would otherwise vote for the Socialist, but who are deterred from doing so by the cry of Atheism, is impossible to explain on any other hypothesis than either the dread of intellectual freedom aforesaid, or abject idiocy on the part of the said elector. The Nonconformist voter, if he thought that the return of Socialists to Parliament would tend towards the forceable suppression of the Christian faith, might be perfectly justified in refusing to vote for them. But he knows perfectly well that all that the Socialist proposes in this matter is to place the Christian religion on the level of other religions, of science, and of non-Christian theories generally. Admitting, then, that an intimate connection between Atheism and Socialism were established from a theoretical point of view, what is there in this to prevent a Non-conformist or other Christian from recording his vote for a candidate with whose immediate practical programme, which is, after all, the main point at issue, he agrees? (I can understand, perhaps, his hesitating to definitely avow himself a Socialist, or to formally join a Socialist organisation. But if he really has faith in the merits of his creed to conquer by its own intrinsic qualities in the absence of direct persecution or oppression, he has nothing to fear.) However this may be, the practical attitude of Socialism in this matter is perfectly plain. Whether Socialism be identifiable with Atheism or not, Socialism is undoubtedly identified with Free Thought in the truest sense of the word. Whatever Christians may be, Socialists are confident in the triumph of the truth through free discussion. Their programme must therefore embrace the complete freeing of human life from the fetters of traditional dogma. And what does this mean other than the complete secularisation of the political and social life of the community?

As I have already indicated, I think, then, that there is a theoretical opposition between Socialism and Christianity. It will scarcely be denied that most Socialists are non-Christians, where not militant anti-Christians. Space will not allow of anything approaching a full treatment of this interesting question of the relations of Socialism, considered as an economic doctrine and theory of life, with a definite speculative theory or a philosophic view of the universe. Enough has been said, I think, however, to show that here also it is impossible, except for election purposes, to sincerely treat Socialism as absolutely disconnected even with these purely speculative interests.

We have now considered, successively, the today much vexed question of the relations of Socialism in its narrower sense as a politico-economic doctrine with Socialism in its broader sense, as including the issues of patriotism and internationalism, of marriage and the family, and of religion, as currently understood. The instinct alike of friend and foe, of Socialists themselves, and of the opponents of Socialism, has, with a certain rough accuracy, diagnosed the tendencies of Socialism in its relation to these questions. Even Socialists whose whole attention since joining the movement has been occupied with the central economic issue feel instinctively, if I may say so, out of harmony with the orthodox current views of these other matters. The Socialist who takes a wider view, the Socialist thinker, sees the grounds of this instinctively felt incompatibility to exist in the nature of things.

Now a few words in conclusion as to the morality, and advisability for electoral purposes, of masking the true state of the case. I say the true state of the case advisedly, for, although I know that some sort of technical show of argument may, by holding to the letter and disregarding the spirit, be made out for confining the term Socialism to its purely economic definition, yet on a broad view of things (and in practice the broad view is bound to have to be taken account of in the long run) all such artificial argumentation breaks down. All repudiations and all asseverations to the contrary, Socialism remains, among friend and foe alike, associated with the views repudiated.

Now, I ask, is it not better even for the Socialist candidate, in the long run, to grasp the nettle rather than to shirk touching it, and while, of course, exposing with a scathing hand the lying and calumnious distortions of the enemy, to acknowledge that in the last resort Socialism as a theory of social life is not compatible with the current bourgeois ideas on these subjects in defence of which the reactionist professes such zeal? After all, votes, important though they be, are not the only thing in social progress. Better, I say, to lose a few votes for the moment, for it will only be for the moment, rather than compromise with principle and set an example of prevarication. Personally, I must say I have too much faith in the future of Socialism to regard such arts as these as necessary or desirable. Socialism is destined to conquer and, in its conquest, it will assuredly supersede the Throne, the Hearth, and the Altar in the forms in which they have existed in history and survive at the present time. It will assuredly make an end of the narrow views on these subjects still largely obtaining, as of the institutions themselves as at present existing; and in their place will arise other social forms and other conceptions more consistent with the realisation of that Freedom, Justice, and Brotherhood which is, after all, the ethical standard that Socialism unfolds before the eyes of men, and by virtue of which it makes appeal to their hearts.


Last updated on 15.10.2004