August Bebel

Society of the Future


As with the state, with religion. It will not be "abolished". God will not be "dethroned", religion will not be "torn out of the hearts of people"; nor will any other of the foolish accusations against Social-Democrats with atheistic leanings materialise. Such absurdities the Social-Democrats leave to the bourgeois ideologists, who in the French Revolution resorted to such methods and, naturally, met with a pathetic fiasco. Religious organisations and with them the churches will gradually disappear without any violent assault or any suppression of beliefs.

Religion is the transcendental reflection of prevailing social conditions. In the measure that human development progresses, and society is transformed, religion is transformed along with it; to use Marx's phrase, religion is the striving after an illusory happiness for the people that stems from the social condition, necessitating such are illusion(1), and it disappears as soon as the masses understand what genuine happiness is and see the possibility of its realisation. The ruling classes endeavour, in their own interests, to obstruct this understanding and, therefore, seek to preserve religion as a means of upholding their domination, which is most clearly expressed in the well-known statement: "Religion must be preserved for the people." In a society based on class domination this for becomes an important official function. A caste forms which assumes this function and devotes all its ingenuity to preserving and enlarging this edifice, since it thereby enhances its own power and prestige.

Fetishism at the lowest stage of civilisation, in primitive social conditions, gives way to polytheism at a higher stay of development, and monotheism at a still higher stage. It is not the gods that create men, it is men who make the gods or God for themselves. "In his own image he (man) created Him (God)", not the other way round. Monotheism, too, has already dissolved in an all-embracing, all-permeating pantheism and continues to fade away. The natural sciences have reduced the dogma of the creation of the Earth in six days to a myth; astronomy and mathematics have made heaven into a mere structure of air, and the stars in the firmament, on which the angels are enthroned, into planets and fixed stars, the nature of which excludes all angel life.

The ruling class, finding that its existence is threatened, clings to religion as the prop of all authority, just as every ruling class in the past has done.(2) The bourgeoisie itself does not believe in anything; in the whole course of its development, by means of modern science to which it itself gave birth, the bourgeoisie has been destroying faith in religion and all authority. Its faith is only a pretence, and the Church accepts the aid of this false friend because it is in need of it. "Religion is necessary for the people."

No such considerations move the new society. Constant human progress and unadulterated science are its motto. If someone should still have religious requirements, let him satisfy them in the company of like-minded people. Society does not concern itself with the matter. The priest, too, must work in order to live and since he learns in doing so, the day will come when he too realises that the highest aim in life is to be a man.

Ethics and morality exist also without religion; the opposite can be asserted only by the simple-minded or hypocrites. Ethics and morality are the expression for concepts which govern both relations between men and their actions. Religion embraces the relations of men with supernatural beings. As religion, so concepts of morality stem from the prevailing social conditions in which men live.(3) Cannibals regard man-eating as highly moral, the Greeks and Romans considered slavery moral, the feudal lord of the Middle Ages considered serfdom moral; and today to the modern capitalist wage-labour relations, the exploitation of women and the demoralisation of children by industrial labour all appear moral.(4) Four stages of society and four concepts of morality, and yet the highest moral sense prevails in none. The highest moral condition is when men stand to one another as free and equal beings, that in which the principle "As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise" rules all human relations. In the Middle Ages it was man's genealogical tree that determined everything, now it is his property; in future man will be respected because he is man. And the future belongs to socialism.

1. Karl Marx, Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Rechtsphilosophie. Deutsch-Franzäsische Jahrbücher, 1. und 2. Lieferung, Paris, 1844.

2. How the ancients thought about this subject can be seen from Aristotle's statement on how a tyrant (the term applied to autocrats in Ancient Greece) should behave: "He must be seen always to be exceptionally zealous as regards religious observances (for people are less afraid of suffering any illegal treatment from men of this sort, if they think that their ruler has religious scruples and has regard to the gods, and also they plot against him less, thinking that he has even the gods as allies). Aristotle, Politics.

3. See K. Kautsky, Ethik und materialistische geschichtsauffassung, Stuttgart, 1905, Verlag J.H.W. Dietz Nachf.

4. When the bourgeois is at a loss for reasons to justify something unseemly, the odds are a thousand to one that he will appeal to "morality".

Next: The Socialist Education System