Christopher Caudwell. From Further Studies in a Dying Culture
From Karl Marx: Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy
‘In the social production of their means of life, human beings enter into definite and necessary relations which are independent of their will: production relations which correspond to a definite stage in the development of their productive forces. The totality of these production relations constitutes the economic structure of society, the real basis upon which a legal and political superstructure arises, and to which definite forms of social consciousness correspond.
‘The mode of production of the material means of life determines, in general, the social, political, and intellectual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of human beings which determines their existence, it is their social existence which determines their consciousness.
‘At a certain stage of their development the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing production relationships. Or, what is a legal expression for the same thing, with the property relationships within which they have hitherto moved. From forms of development of the productive forces those relationships turn into fetters upon them. A period of social revolution then begins.
‘With the change in the economic foundation the whole gigantic superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations we must always distinguish between the material changes in the economic conditions of production (changes which can be determined with the precision of natural science) and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic, or philosophic – in short ideological – forms in which human beings become conscious of this conflict and fight it out to an issue.
‘Just as little as we can judge an individual by what he thinks of himself, just so little can we appraise such a revolutionary epoch in accordance with its own consciousness of itself. On the contrary, we have to explain the consciousness as the outcome of the contradictions of material life, of the conflict existing between social productive forces and production relationships.
‘No social order is destroyed until all the productive forces for which it gives scope have been developed: new and higher production relations cannot appear until the material conditions for their existence have ripened within the womb of the old social order. Therefore mankind in general never sets itself problems it cannot solve: since, looked at more closely, we always find that the problem arises only when the material conditions for its solution exist, or at least, are already in process of formation.
‘We can in broad outline designate the Asiatic, the Classical, the Feudal, and the modern Bourgeois forms of production as progressive epochs in the economic formation of society.
‘The bourgeois production relations are the final antagonistic form in the development of social production – antagonistic, not in the sense of an antagonism between individuals, but one inherent in the life conditions and social circumstances of the individuals, at the time when the productive forces developing in the womb of bourgeois society are creating the material conditions for the solution of that antagonism.
‘This social formation, therefore, constitutes the closing chapter of the prehistoric stage of human society.’
In the study of comparative religion, bourgeois scholarship has from time to time attempted to draw a distinction between magic and religion. The original distinction was theological; it took a subtler form when magic came to be regarded as the primitive parent of science, of the belief in the universal reign of causality. But lacking a definition of either magic or religion that was really analytical, bourgeois culture has never been able to produce a science of comparative religion which would be both explanatory and inclusive; it has always at some stage or other in the study revealed its own unscientific content.
Various psychological explanations of the evolution of religion have been put forward, of which Freud’s Totem and Tabu is representative, in which well-known psycho-analytical mechanisms are called upon to explain the development of religion. But if man’s psyche is genetically unchanging, the story of religion cannot be explained in terms of the individual psyche, for a most important characteristic of religion is just its wide variation, a variation out of all proportion to the trifling genetic variation of men in historic times. The study of religion, in any scientific sense, must therefore be the study of those causes, independent of any individual psyche, which produce in the individual psyche the religious beliefs and attitudes that we know from history.
Attempts have been made to explain the development of different religious beliefs from animism to Christianity, as the result of an evolutionary process in the course of which religion passes through a series of stages. Such a notion is only evolutionary in the abstract, for it deals with the evolution, not of objective religion but of the idea of religion. Religion exists as a sum of human beliefs and actions, of beliefs held by real individuals acting in a real society. Its evolution can therefore only be considered as part of the evolution of real men in real society. This so-called evolutionary school first abstracts religious beliefs from the men who hold and act them, and then studies their possible development. This is a logical, not a real, evolution. Since the material threads making the visual pattern – man’s real active existence producing religious beliefs – have been cut, the submerged interconnection which would explain the pattern is no longer accessible.
Of all the bourgeois schools the most realistic in its approach is the ‘functional’ school of whose theory Malinowski and his pupil Audrey Richards are leading exponents. This school deals with the religious beliefs of primitives only as they evidence themselves in primitive life, not merely as abstract ‘beliefs’ but in action, as part of the warp and woof of daily social transactions.
But it is part of the doom of bourgeois culture that it can only achieve such correct approaches in closed worlds in a limited sector. Although the functional method is formally correct, it gets applied only to a limited sphere – the study of certain primitive peoples – and the observers continually show the basic confusion of their views on the relations of men, nature and society. To be a thorough-going functionalist as regards Melanesian or Bantu society, would be to be a Marxist and a dialectical materialist.
The view of human society taken by this school is not really functional, for it does not include, as functions of society, the ‘civilised’ equipment the observers themselves bring to their survey of primitive society. Thus even their primitive society is never more than a collection of individuals, for there is no real attempt to discern in the collection of individuals those relations which make it a society and are the seat of change and development. Society for them is static and non-historic, as if it were the result of a crystallation and not of an evolutionary movement.
Bourgeois culture has, however, not been content with three different ways of explaining the evolution of religion. There is also the environmental explanation, in which religious beliefs are the projection of natural phenomena (sun and rain and sky myths); the individualistic explanation, in which cunning priests, kings, and chiefs seize hold of man’s ‘natural’ belief in magic to impose their rule and a settled cosmogony on their fellows; and the idealistic explanation, in which religion is due to the birth or evolution of the Ideas of Spirit, Goodness, Awe, and so on.
Marx, however, developing in his revolutionary activity Feuerbach’s and Morgan’s pioneer work, had shown nearly 100 years ago the correct path to follow – not as a new ‘fad’ derived from a limited sphere (the psycho-analytical, evolutionary, or functional approaches) but as part of a consistent world-view, the arrival at which meant that one had ceased to be bourgeois.
(i) ‘Religion is a fantastic reality’.
Fantastic, because the statements it makes about existents are incorrect, because the ideas of outer reality incorporated in it do not correspond with outer reality. Real, because these ideas are causally linked with material reality, and are not only determined but also determine, in their turn exerting a causal influence on their matrix. Thus by acknowledging that religious ideas are not spontaneous but form part of active reality, Marxism is able to analyse more deeply the real causes which produced them. The analysis of religion becomes also an analysis of society.
(ii) ‘Religion is consciousness of self and the self-feeling of a man who has not yet found himself or has lost himself again.’
The animals are not religious, and religion thus becomes a badge of man, not as mere animal but as distinct from animals, and man distinct from animals is man in association as a functioning group, a group engaged in economic production. Religion is seen to be, like the consciousness of which it is a part, an economic product. Because it is conscious it is ‘higher’ than the blind unconscious knowledge of reality shown by the animal in its actions, the animal whose ‘notions’ of causality exist implicitly as mere conditioned or unconditioned reflexes. Yet religion is a distorted knowledge of reality. It is a consciousness of self which is lawless and unattached – which has not yet found itself or has lost itself. Such a man is conscious of himself, but projects this consciousness outside himself, unaware as yet of his own necessities or of the universe of causality in which his existence is grounded.
(iii) ‘Man is not an abstract being existing outside the world. Man – that is the world of men, the State, society.’
This consciousness is not the consciousness of an abstract average man. It is the self-feeling of a man in the world of men, living in active social relations with other men, and forming a distinctive society. It is the self-feeling of a particular individual in a particular society at a particular time, and hence the study of religion is inseparable from the study of society.
(iv) ‘This state, this society, produces religion – an inverted consciousness of the world – because the world itself an inverted world.’
The religious distortion of consciousness is produced by the structure of the society in which it is generated. It is the outcome of an illusion, a flaw, an infection, in that society. Thus the criticism of religion is also the criticism of the society that produced it, and this does not mean a criticism of that society in the abstract but of its concrete reality, a criticism of all the social relations engendered by its level of economic production.
(v) ‘The struggle against religion is therefore, indirectly, the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.’
Since the criticism of religion becomes, to Marxism, the criticism of the concrete social relations which produced it, the struggle against its errors and its distortions can never be a struggle against religion as such – a kind of armchair atheism – because such a struggle is not a real one – it is ideal truth fighting ideal religion and both, when abstracted from action, are unreal. The very criticism of religion, as soon as it becomes criticism of concrete religion, becomes criticism of the social relations that engendered it, and when this criticism emerges creatively as a struggle, it will not be an ideal struggle against religious ideas but a concrete struggle against real social relations. There is no absolute truth to set against fantastic lies, but fantastic reality whose fantastic content is exposed in real living.
(vi) ‘Religious misery is at once the expression of real misery and a protest against that real misery. Religion is the sigh of the hard-pressed creature; the heart of a heartless world.... It is the opium of the people.’
But what we have previously said does not mean that the struggle against religion is merely the struggle against the non-religious social relations that produced it, and that religion is exempted from the field of battle. The struggle is against the real, concrete, social relations which produce these beliefs, and some of these relations are religious relations. The whole of concrete society is the domain of Marxism, and religion is included in concrete society now. The religious beliefs, and those social forms that are religious, are part of the existing superstructure of society. Active criticism of that society involves the transformation of its social relations, and therefore encounters the resistance of all those men for whom the superstructure is the expression of their special status and privilege in society. This resistance makes use of all the forms of the existing superstructure, including the religious forms. Religious beliefs are part of the form in which ‘men become conscious of the struggle and fight it out to an issue’.
Yet religion is at once the expression of real misery and a protest against that real misery’. It pictures an inverted world which just because it is inverted, will also be a criticism of the real world. A religion expressive of the social relations of a virile and active age may, as those relations emerge more and more clearly as the bulwark of an exploiting class now grown parasitic, finally find some of its content in antagonism to that exploiting class. Conversely the religion which embodies the protest of an exploited class may, as that class becomes revolutionary and creative, itself grow vital and insurgent. Religion, because it is the opium of the people and not the pride of the exploiting class, may at some time give rise to a revolutionary religion, the weapon of the people.
Is magic then a ‘human weakness and religion a specific social product, its form and rôle only varying according to the society in which it is found? Marx was able to answer these questions in the course of his sociological analysis:-
Magic is the product of a primitive society. (Man’s self-feeling before he has found himself.) Religion is the product of a class society. (Man’s self-feeling when he has lost himself.) Dialectical materialism is the product of a classless society. (Man’s self-feeling when he has found himself again.)
‘The primitive man may recognise the sensations he experiences without an adequate knowledge of their causes. Malinowski states that the Trobriand Islanders enjoy the act of eating without any knowledge of the physiological function of nutrition, just as they enjoy sexual pleasure without being aware of the physiological nature of paternity. This was not so with the natives among whom I worked, but I noticed that the sensations connected with the alimentary or sexual functions were reckoned on a par with what we should describe as emotional conditions – such as anger or sorrow. It must be remembered here that visceral sensations actually are produced through the action of the involuntary nervous system under the strain of strong emotions such as fear or rage. The savage recognises that sexual satisfaction, pregnancy, as well as a number of emotions, may all be responsible for physiological sensations which are, in many respects, similar. What wonder that he concludes sometimes that their cause is similar? “When I drink beer I feel hot inside, as I do when I am angry,” a Muhemba said to me; and a man who has just had sexual intercourse is also described as “hot.” Radcliffe-Brown points out that the word kimil is used by the Andaman Islander to describe heat, the condition of a man after eating and also after slaying an enemy. It is well known, too, that among some primitive tribes pregnancy is a supposed to be a result of eating some special food recognised by the first attack of sickness that the woman experiences. The Malayan speaks of the hantu or the Spirit of the forest, together with the hantu that makes people gamble, smoke opium, dispute, or these that produce stomach-ache or headache, as though all these could be traced to a similar cause. In fact, as Mr. Smith sums up the situation among the Ba-ila: “The parts they assign to the organs in the economy of the body are psychical rather than physiological, i.e. they regard them more as the seats of emotion than of vital processes.” ‘
Are animals ignorant of causality? In so far as they are able to respond actively and correctly to stimuli (leaping on a moving object, turning towards a sound) they prove their knowledge of causality. They show a conditioned reflex, in which the conditioning represents a certain knowledge of causality acquired from experience. But it is unconscious knowledge.
With the evolution of primitive man self-consciousness emerges. It emerges as an affect, as a feeling which is not merely the glow of action but something which can be recalled, can become the object of perception, and can be externalised. It can be described.
But it is the self-feeling of a man who has yet not found himself. The affect awakened by the stimulus appears to lead a violent, solitary life of its own. It is common to a range of actions and is yet distinguishable from them. On the one hand it is separate, an ego, a stable power; on the other hand it interpenetrates reality, attaching itself to a variety of active, interesting movements in outer reality. And because it attaches to reality, it begins to take on itself some of the attributes and interest of outer reality. The fear becomes the thing feared; the desire, the thing desired; the feeling of domination the actual domination of reality. The affect is plastic and fluid as reality is not. It is movable, recallable, shareable; it is a substitute for reality. It is the self-feeling of the man who has not found himself, because he has not yet come to regard himself as part of reality, in causal unity with it. How could he do so, when the first stage of consciousness was the separation of himself from reality – the discrimination of subject from object as a struggle, as an antagonism of self against not-self?
Consciousness emerges then as a ‘lost’, bewildered affect, apparently full of illusion and fluidity. It is precisely this fluidity which gives it its value and ultimately its justification as the vehicle of higher truths.
The affect, which emerges in the individual as a common reaction to a variety of experiences, becomes the gesture and finally the word which, because it is external and similar becomes for the group a social name crystallising the common adventures of the group in the world of reality. Because the affect involves or is rooted in a similar behaviour it becomes the means, via the word, of organising social behaviour in reference to the varying phenomena of the outside world. Each enriches the other, and language and consciousness grow as a result of their interaction with a continually elaborating universe.
It is this interaction which is social and tribal. Nutrition and shelter and protection from wild beasts involve a series of elaborate actions performed in unison and by no means instinctive – in short, economic production. Such elaborate activities can only be co-ordinated by an elaboration of affect and word organisations which thus contain within their interstices a social view of outer reality and a community of emotionally tinged ideas. Thus any picture of the individual consciousness at the start detaching itself as a simple ego from all reality, and acquiring its own presentations and organising them, is false; for consciousness emerges as the concomitant of economic production, as part and parcel of man’s interpenetration with outer reality. That interpenetration generates consciousness, which is therefore full of the impress of both. The formation of consciousness is an active process, now and historically; but because the activity is social and secured by a division of labour, this is not obvious to introspection.
What then is the part that magic plays in this active interpenetration? It is seen everywhere to be the activity of primitive or atavistic man who, having become conscious of himself, attempts to find himself by projecting his self-feeling into outer reality, in the form of spirits (animism), forces, demons, hantu, djinns, nymphs, genii, powers, mana, ghosts, devils. And he projects, not only the affects but the active organisation of them, so that it seems possible to control reality by those movements which have accompanied such affects in the past. Rain-making, harvest, the multiplication of food-animals and the like, is secured by imitating the noise of the rain, the actions of sowing or reaping the harvest, and the gait or appearance of the animals.
By thus projecting his self-feeling into outer reality, man also feels his way into it. True, he makes the environmental human, arbitrary, emotional. But as a result he also makes himself environmental. He comes from the transaction enriched with a knowledge of reality.
He makes as it were a series of magic propositions about reality, a chain of wish-fulfilments. In acting according to these, he imperceptibly finds imposed on them, by interaction with reality, a real structure, a determined pattern. As a result of experience, his prayers for rain are made at the beginning of the rainy season, his fertility rites are performed in spring. He prays to the sun to rise at dawn, and does not ask it to rise immediately after it has set. The inhabitants of desert lands do not pray for rain. Thus all his self-feeling, projected into outer reality, is organised by it, and what were at first all-powerful emotions, apparently dominating reality, became words emotionally charged, and yet organised and ‘influenced’ by reality, and, finally those become symbols (mathematics) which are like a transparent dress conforming to the shape of outer reality. All this has been achieved by his active interpenetration with reality. (Newtonian ‘forces’ of gravity still retain a colouring of magic, but already the medium is almost colourless.)
In doing so man has also become conscious of himself. He sees his body as a part of the environment; as subject to the same laws. He sees Parts of his body, no longer as seats of emotions, but as seats of physiological functions. He sees himself as part of the determined unity of reality. He becomes not merely conscious as a self, but conscious of himself. He, the subject, becomes to himself an object.
He sees this determined unity as a changing unity of opposites, and himself as an active opposite, realising his affects, not blindly and unknowingly but according to the necessities of the Universe. He has become conscious of necessity, and therefore of all reality.
The fluidity of the affects remains. The affects are attached to ideas, and his ideas therefore remain fluid, but he does not now suppose that in organising his ideas according to his affective drives he is altering reality. He is only altering himself. That is to say he has ceased to create mythologies, creeds, schemes of salvation and theologies, and become an artist, aware that his story, picture, or sound-group is not a reflex of actual reality (as the priests maintain) but an art work. Or, if the ideas rather than the affects are his main interest in this shuffling, he knows he is not altering reality, but experimenting with possible changes as a scientist and putting forward hypotheses.
Man, then, has completely found himself. This is not the end only of man’s prehistoric stage. This inaugurates the most eventful age of man. It is precisely art and science that are more fluid and evolutionary than magic and religion. When magic and religion end, therefore, the prehistoric stage of man’s evolution ends, and he has at last completely found himself. He has become conscious, not only of outer reality but of himself, as part with it of the one active process.
And then, too, he has necessarily become conscious of society. We have so far stated the interpenetration in terms of one average man and nature, but this interpenetration is only the outcome of the increase in complexity of society, and thus when man is finally in a position to become conscious of the complete, active, subject-object relation, a whole fabric of social being has been built up, a complex and rich organism, of which he must now become conscious in order to achieve the final integration.
It is just because the interpenetration is the result of a social economic process, handling real matter, real nature and real men, that it is not a simple ideal movement, but slowly and painfully developed. It is because consciousness is the product of social life that magic and religion have the complex elaborate history they do have. It is because of the laws, of social relations, of which man is until the end unconscious, that man seems to find himself and lose himself again and again. This is because at the best he only finds himself as he is not, in the way he finds himself in Aristotle, Plato, Lucretius, Plotinus, Ockham, Aquinas, Hobbes, Helvetius, Kant, and Hegel; he finds himself as an individual in civil society. He is not this. This conception shuts off from his self-knowledge huge areas of himself, and drives him to and fro from one contradiction to another. He finds himself fully and finally only as more than an individual in civil society, as an individual because of civil society, as a node in the social plexus.
Sub-man must have been formed into society and humanity as the result of a process which forced on him economic production. By economic production we mean an active interpenetration of organism with nature that is not innate, not genetically inherited, but is transmitted by external means, and yet is not environmental in the biological sense. It is cultural.
It is therefore almost a tautology to say that economic production is what makes man man, for any real definition it at once delimits as a distinct sphere all the human qualities, and at the same time exhibits those qualities as social, as the result of man being in economic production associated man. Speech, ideas, reason, art, consciousness, writing tools, truth, morality, law, ethics and ideals – all these are seen to emerge as social and not individual properties. Though present in the individual they are generated as a social process and seem external.
The attempt to control nature in a new way is therefore forced on man by nature, and given in the very form of the attempt is society – the non-genetical inheritance of an active interpenetration of man and nature. This proves itself a richer and more powerful method than the biological interpenetration. The struggle becomes more acute; the war between man. and nature is waged on more and more fronts; and it is precisely this undying hostility, this furious antagonism, which produces a greater humanisation of the environment by man and a greater environmentalisation of man by nature.
Having gathered itself apart from nature as something separate and antagonistic, man’s self-feeling or consciousness is simultaneously projected on to nature. This itself is the reflex of man’s greater separation from nature by economic production and the increasing humanisation of nature (huts, tilled land, tamed animals) which that interpenetration produces.
Therefore in the world of magic, it seems as if man’s self-feeling was an active creative force, and that the emotions he felt stir within him were flooding the world of reality. They seem to possess him (for he has not yet found himself) and nature (for he is in active relation with nature), and to be sources of movement and power, moulding the world of phenomena to their shape. The world therefore becomes interpreted in terms of these affects, but since affects cannot be bodied forth socially and interpretation is a social action, these affects become interpreted in terms of the stock of ideas socially available, drawn from the social activity of the community, and in terms of the actions and behaviour of men in society. This very interpretation changes and we have therefore a mythology in which ordinary terms, the description of ordinary activities, and ordinary men, women, and animals become large, sacred, rigid, hieratic, awesome and hybrid. We have a series of actions which become formalised, stereotyped, emotional and abstract – the ritual dances, ceremonies and initiations. This body of magic ideas and behaviour acts and reacts upon profane ideas and behaviour but in a primitive community never becomes isolated from them. Most activities and ideas have a magical element; most magical activities have a social function.
Now because such a magic is the by-product of the social relations engendered by economic production, it advances and develops equally with production at the primitive level of society. Economic production is realising magic’s promises. In magic the primitive’s desires become detached as beneficent or evil spirits with power to change and mould reality to their will. This is precisely what economic production does – it humanises the environment. Man’s desire for plenty, externalised as the god plenty, does through economic production make the wilderness blossom and hunting prosper.
Magic presupposes a vast power not actually realised by primitive economic production. Admittedly, but economic production at the bourgeois level will give man powers undreamed of by the primitives, and then, precisely because the intemperate desires of magic are at last ‘realised’, made real (and changed in thus becoming concrete), magic itself will disappear, having been sucked into reality. Until then magic, though generated by economic production, is in antagonism to it, and this antagonism, by reaching always beyond man’s powers now, drives him on in hope and confidence to new levels of production.
This process acts as a kind of channel for magic. It produces a distinction between ‘black’ and ‘white’ magic. ‘White’ magic is social magic; it is magic rooted in economic production. It is magic which does not, for example, demand manna in the desert, or sit back and ask the gods to reap and sow the fields or Robin Goodfellow to make the butter. It is magic which ‘asks the blessing of the gods’, or ‘brings mana’, force, magic power upon all the social activities concerned in economic production. It asks this power and this blessing upon the arduous labour of the harvest, the hopeful spring mowing, the making of canoes and of huts, the driving of animals, the various crises associated with the development of such economic units as the family, the class, or the clan-marriage, birth, initiation and death. This magic is not a substitute for such economic production. It does not ask the gods to ripen the grains at once, or demand of magic in this world immortal life. It is a relish to economic production. It asks the gods to put heart and luck into the labour. By holding out the divine certainty of harvest, or the promise of children, or the magic enforcement of game, it gives man courage and heart for the lengthy labours required before his satisfaction. It does this by the dance, the chant, the fable and myth, the feast in common.
Since the gods and the forces which man has projected by magic into nature are mere embodiments and reflections of his own self-feeling, and since the purpose of magic ceremonies is simply to awaken such emotions in his heart, there is a reality in magic. The gods, which were originally personal emotions projected into nature in social clothes, become in magic ceremonies stripped of their clothes, and return again into the heart as bare emotions but now changed by their intervening life. They are taken out of the social cold storage of mythology. The god comes again into the worshipper; the worshipper is said to become the god, as in Dionysian rites – and truly, for the god was never more than the social crystallisation of the affects of a number of worshippers, which now return into them simultaneously.
Though magic is a reality, it is a fantastic reality. Affects and outer reality are blended, and confusingly blended. One distorts the other; man has not yet learned to distinguish them in science and art. Yet the very interpenetration which begets their distortion also ensures at this stage their mutual correction. Magic does not replace economic production: it is a special offshoot of it, and therefore is a distorted reflection of it. But it is a conscious, cultural reflection, portable, easily inherited and easily modified. These conveniences outweigh the distortions. Because magic, by reason of its association with economic production, contains in its mythology and ritual the correct operations for sowing and reaping or hunting, crystallises the family and tribal social relations, is a compendious calendar and tribal guide, and can be handed on and shared socially, it is an invaluable ally to economic production. It is a special social consciousness of economic production, of the functioning of the tribe relation to nature.
It is thus parent of science. In proportion as economic production develops and becomes a division of labour, magic splits up and soon ceases to reflect man’s direct relation to nature. It ceases to be an almanac and storehouse of the more abstract and generalised economic experiences. It becomes on the one hand art, in which all its affective organisation crystallises, and on the other hand science, in which all its cognitive organisation is marshalled. Thus with the development of art and science magic as an important vital element in economic production disappears because he very development of economic production which it has helped to bring about has made it unnecessary. Man has found himself. He has separated himself from the environment again, in art and science, not absolutely but as part of a new and more active interpenetration. Magic now only survives, not as the proud flower of social life, mother of all social power and status, but as something lingering on in interstices and crevices.
Even while the development of science and art reveals more truly the precise relation between man and nature, between man’s self-feeling and nature’s necessity, a relation which magic only imperfectly expressed, the division of labour in economic production had provided a development in magic. The two developments overlapped. Magic disappeared, became outcast and suspect, became increasingly replaced by science and art, and at the same time magic appeared in a new and more powerful form. It became religion.
In fact of course religion was always latent in magic. We call it religion only when it shows an organisation, a coherence, a tough, visible structure. This organisation, coherence and structure are themselves only possible as the result of the development of economic production, through the division of labour, to a level where society becomes complex and highly organised. The development of classes in society makes magic into religion, and gives religion characteristic form reflecting the class structure in turn, as the form of a specific level of economic production. Even at the earliest level of economic production, religion is visible in men’s religious attitude towards the dead. The dead and the not-dead are the two great divisions of primitive society which seem almost to stand to each other in the relation of exploited to exploiting classes. The living owe their productive level to the capital, the instruments of production, the instruction, the wisdom, and the transmitted culture of the dead who therefore continue to live in the interstices of the society they have departed from in body. This half-life of the dead, constantly recalled to the living by their instructions, their leavings and their social formulations, is the other-world survival of the dead in all primitive societies which, as the researches of anthropologists increasingly show, is probably the most important element in primitive religious beliefs. This immortality of the dead is a fantastic reality. The dead really live on socially in the inherited culture of society, but to the primitive they live fantastically, clothed in the affective and concrete images of his dreams in another, ghostly world.
Just as magic expressed man’s confused perception of the relation of man’s self-feeling to nature’s necessities, and disappears when man finds himself in a true relation to nature in science and art, so religion expresses man’s confused perception of the relation of man’s self-feeling to society’s necessities, and disappears when man completely finds himself in society. Until then, religion seems separate from magic, and seems to tower above science and art, for science and art are still distorted and confused by the confusion of man’s self-feeling, and have not yet realised themselves in society. Religion expresses – and therefore defends – a class-confused society, a society whose view of itself is only a fantastic reality because its economic production still functions within the limits imposed by a ruling class. The struggle against religion, unlike the struggle against magic, is therefore a struggle against class. The struggle of one religion against another is the struggle of one class against another, and the struggle against all religion can only be realised as the struggle for a classless society. Only when conditions are ripe for the creation of such a society, therefore, can the struggle against religion be the important turning-point of ideological activity.
Just as magic is a confused perception of man’s relation to reality, but, in spite of its confusion, proves more valuable and more powerful than the unconsciousness of beasts, because it is a conscious perception and therefore a social perception, so religion, although a confused perception of man’s relation to society, is more valuable than no perception of social relations at all. Indeed it is essential to the early development of ‘civilised’ society. As long as economic production remains below the point at which classes can vanish, so long the evolution of religion merely expresses the struggle between different forms of class societies. All those social relations in which production relations emerge to consciousness disguised and veiled, are social relations which inevitably include religion.
In primitive societies, where division of labour is hardly practised, social relations have not developed such complexity that a bewildering superstructure is interposed between man and the basis of his life, his struggle with nature. Man finds himself in association with others directly confronted by nature. In this fight magic is the heartener, the confused symbol of man’s powers, the affect broken loose and humanising the environment. In so far as it is secreted by this struggle and regularised by participation in economic production, magic is also to the tribe the textbook manual and educator in the technique of association for economic production. It thus is reality, although a fantastic reality. Archæology finds all men’s first formulations of causality – the calendar, cosmogony, and physiology – and of affective realities – art, dance, tragedy – and of social relations – the family, the class, the tribe – emerge first in magical dress.
Magic can also be used independently of man associated in economic production. These magical affects, made detached and plastic by the rituals of the tribe, can be used by the individual against other individuals. The word, which is a social creation and derives its power as a tool from its social rôle, can be harnessed in private spells and chants to private ends – against personal enemies or for personal goods.
Now it is not possible for such magic to add to the tribe’s, knowledge because it is not secreted in the process of economic production and therefore is not pressed against the shape of reality. It is not a science in embryo. It cannot be tested out in practice by society, and so rectified. It is private, whispered, individualistic. It is not deeply intertwined with outer reality, like public magic, by partaking of economic production. It is not transmitted as a body of experience for tribal use. It is therefore a degeneration – the use of tribal capital for personal aims. Society made magic, for it made the common word and gesture which seem to possess a power beyond the individual. It does possess a power beyond the individual, it possesses the power of associated men, which is composed of and yet external to individuals, which is not innate but leads a strange life of its own and is fitly symbolised in the form of ghosts and forces. This social power the wizard uses for individual ends. Black magic or witchcraft as opposed to white magic or ritual is therefore rightly condemned as anti-social, disruptive and dangerous. It is wicked, just as white magic is holy – ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’. Because it is unconventional and does not use socially recognised forms embodying the structure of society as its channel, it is opposed to white magic and religion. Thus all innovators in religion will be met by religion with the cry of ‘witches’, ‘heretics’, ‘wicked men’, because they negate the social norms of the time. All such negation seems wicked. The question is whether they are rebels and revolutionaries expressing new productive forces struggling for release or merely maladapted individuals making anti-social sorties. If they are harbingers of a successful revolution, they in their turn will become holy.
Magic remains at the level of magic only in a primitive society. In such a society, economic production knows no division of labour except that arising from genotypical as distinct from imposed classes. Such classes are formed by the sexes, which in turn may be divided into children, initiated, adolescents, bachelors, married, and aged. Such primitive society is best seen in Australia, but is common to all tribes still at the food-gathering stage of culture.
When economic production passes beyond food-gathering to a settled agriculture, a division of labour takes place which involves in each unit a man who acts as director of labours, keeper of the calendar, custodian of the social capital in the form of seeds, implements, or garnered fruits. This is the village headman, who becomes the chief, and, as agriculture develops to the stage where it requires perhaps irrigation works, huge granaries, and the creation of roads and canals, he becomes the god-king, ending as the apex of the pyramid of subordinate or autonomous directors of operations – priests, lords, mandarins and the like. When agriculture has passed from gardening to grain growing, he emerges as the Pharaoh of Egypt, the kings of Babylon and the Mesopotamian city states, the Emperor of China, the Mikado of Japan. His exact position and his relation to similar exalted personages depend on the development of economic production, which in turn will depend upon the topography and climate of the area, its relation with other areas, its own past history, and the internal forces produced by the development of the superstructure.
Such a man derives his magic power not, as Frazer imagines, from his cunning in imposing himself as a magician on his ‘naturally’ credulous neighbours but because his rôle, forced on him by the division of labour, makes him in fact custodian of those supra-individual forces which arise from division of labour and the association of men. Such division and association does wield powers which are more than the individual himself can wield in the struggle against nature. As long as his perception of the origin of these forces remains confused, the individual feels that they are external to him and more powerful than him. He therefore abases himself to these forces. Since these forces are plainly wielded by the king or chief, they seem concentrated in the person of the chief or king, who therefore seems awful, holy, sacred, all-powerful and divine. The precise relation of this chief to the symbols in which the magical consciousness of the tribe has bodied forth its social affects, depends on a chain of historical circumstances, which in no case follow exactly the same route. The relationship between the chief and the animal or human personifications of these social forces is always close. The chief is the incarnation or son or favoured instrument of such forces. The god converses with him or dwells in him.
The family is the economic unit of primitive society: the medium by which food – which does not come on a market distributed and by which the inherited capital of the in the form of technique, language and the memorised plexus of social relations, is transmitted to the tribe. It is the primary educational unit of the tribe, becoming increasingly important with the increase in size of the tribe, which forces the family to take over many Clan functions. Such an increase in size can only take place as the result of the development of economic production. Thus the god-king or holy chief comes into being at the same time as the family unit becomes of increased importance as the main economic channel. In the chief’s family his children will learn the rudiments of his special task and be themselves therefore specially qualified to perform it. Thus a unique virtue will seem to inhere in the blood royal: the sacredness of kingship, derived from direction of the community’s labour power, will seem hereditary. A ruling class will have complete emerged, whose power and prerogatives, because of the confused nature of man’s perception of society and his deficient powers of abstraction, will seem to be inherent in and arise from the chief’s blood.
The division of labour in agriculture, because of its efficiency, develops rapidly. It is checked only by territorial considerations, or by impact with other developed forms growing from other centres and meeting on a common boundary. Smaller units will be absorbed. As the organisation of agriculture grows more complex, so the social relations arising from it become more elaborate and more pyramidal. Whole new classes may arise – priests, warriors, clerks, local lords and chiefs, all apparently depending on the god-king at the apex. The stabilising element of the whole is the right of the ruler, expressed as religion, as the projection on to him of all those ‘loose’ affects, all those symbolised social forces, which stand to the individual man as external, heroic realisations of his own limited desire and powers, something holy and apart.
Thus the tutelary deity or chief god of such an economy is closely identified with the god-king, and represents the power of the tribe, city, or kingdom as an associated group of individuals – represents everything in the association which is more than the mere sum of the powers or separate individuals. In so far as the economic production of the society will turn upon sun, wind, rain, and sea he will also invest himself with the affects which man has projected into these natural phenomena. These phenomena have become for him, as they have not for the animal, objects of interest, because their behaviour affects his sowing and reaping and building. Such a society tends to be monotheistic in that the god which expresses the solidarity of the tribe is exalted against all other gods – as Jehovah against Baal – and is held to account for all the successes of this tribe against others. Such a monotheism may become the medium of a whole national resurgence, as when the Semitic tribes of Arabia, a pastoral people, hurled themselves upon the settled peoples of Europe, to the cry, ‘We are all one people: join our economy or die’. (’there is no God but Allah. Acknowledge him, or pay tribute, or be put to the sword.’) It does not exclude however the accompaniment of the tribal god by a host of lesser spirits, cherubim, seraphim, Beelzebub, and other personifications of the forces of nature, as against personifications of the social unity. Yet man’s homage to these forces is always more individualistic and personal. The one compelling homage which to ignore is to be really wicked, is the homage to the tribal god.
This pure monotheism cannot exist in a successful agricultural society. It can exist, as the example of Islam shows, in a successful pastoral society, where there is little division of labour and all men are equal beneath the chief – Mohammed, Prophet of God, and his Caliph. Such an equality cannot exist in a society where the pyramiding of function involved in a settled agricultural society has been carried far. There are gradations of sacredness, and the ruling, class is hierarchical. For that very reason Mohammedanism comes as a message of hope to an exploited class, and this accounts for its early fierce disruptive power. This necessarily collapsed as soon as a pastoral society, by its conquests and tribute drawing, became transformed into just another Asiatic despotism, and in spite of the survival of the rigid Mohammedan formula with its monotheistic proclamation of pastoral equality, the Mohammedan religion became for the exploited class filled with godlings, beatified disciples, and angels. The religion, though degenerate, is changed by its previous history. Mohammedanism, even in process of becoming another oriental despotism, retains a pastoral flavour of equality. It is more stable, and at a higher plane than the older religions. This in turn reacts upon its economy, which always remains more virile, seafaring, merchandising and nomad than a settled agricultural civilisation.
The pure flame of monotheism may of course be kept alive in an unsuccessful tribe which is not completely extinguished. Thus the Jews, situated on the main trade route of early civilisation and harried and battered on all sides were compressed into a proud, prickly, bigoted society whose difficult economic life is reflected in their religion. But this very battering toughened them; and made of Judaism a consciousness which, as events proved, was to possess great survival value in the maelstrom of social relations of the East.
Monotheism of this kind is incompatible with despotic imperialism. When for a brief time the Jewish tribe became Imperialising, and Solomon was even able to aspire to the hand of Pharaoh’s daughter, Solomon took to himself strange gods. The quick collapse of Solomon’s empire brought about a return to monotheism and the collapse itself was attributed to the unauthorised additions of Solomon.
When an agricultural kingdom imperialises, the unit it swallows up becomes part of the economy of the kingdom. None the less it retains much of its original structure. For example a Mesopotamian or Nilotic ‘city-farm’ swallowed up by a monarchy will retain its local governor, who now becomes subordinate to the monarchy; and the local deity who symbolises the forces of the community will pass into the national pantheon. It will depend on the importance of the unit swallowed whether the god or goddess will become incarnate in the tutelary deity of the nation, or merely get a seat in the pantheon, and whether it remains a god or becomes a ‘hero’. In any event the local deity will continue to be a cult at the headquarters of the unit. Such imperialism should not be confused with the modern Imperialism or Mohammedan imperialism, in which two different economies one temporarily superior to the other, happen to collide. There is then no fusion of religions for the economies do not fuse. Either the relation is merely one of tribute drawing, in which case the conquered society keeps its economy and religion as in most of India to-day; or else one economy swallows up the other, which therefore adopts (with minor differences) the religion of the conquering race. This is seen in that part of India affected by bourgeois culture, which therefore becomes Westernised and bourgeoisified. It would be better to call the Imperialism of Egypt and China, which resulted in the fusion of the societies involved, ‘expansion’, rather than Imperialism in the tribute-drawing or bourgeois sense.
Thus a fully developed pantheon, such as that of Egypt, Babylon, China, or India, represents a kind of telescoping of the social history of the peoples involved. The various incarnations of the ruling deity, and the other occupants of the pantheon, represent swallowed social units (such as the nomes of Egypt) of greater or less importance. Myths, such as that of Isis and Osiris or the Chinese Sky-goddess, embody a magic account of the society’s economic production. Other natural forces enter as ‘promoted’ spirits or ghosts, and the development of warrior and learned classes, and of all other forms of division of labour, results in gods presiding over such activities. The tutelary god has a Prime Minister of Vizier, a secretary, a wife. The profane family is reflected in a holy one. The inverted world of religion acquires a bewildering complexity, has a long history of its own, and exerts a reciprocal effect on the society which engenders it. The labours of archæologists on the records of Egypt, Babylon, China, India, Assyria, Persia, and Crete can only partially uncover this history, for the most living part of religion, its ritual and its active social being, is lost. Only the bones of the organism remain. None the less enough remains to make increasingly clear the accuracy of Marx’s analysis, based on the work of Morgan and Feuerbach.
Communities which exist by gardening, instead of agriculture, and where such gardening is (as still to-day in Africa) the monopoly of women, will worship a Mighty Mother, symbolising in female form the productive forces of the tribe. Since the males of such tribes are generally war-like, the Mighty Mother will be accompanied by a wargod, standing to her in the equivocal relation of husband and son.
Because a division of labour continually secures increased productivity, a civilisation of this character – the settled agricultural culture of Egypt, Persia, China, Mexico, Peru, India, and Mesopotamia – continues to fuse into increasingly centralised despotisms. The individual in whose person all the forces of such a society are concentrated, the god-king, therefore becomes increasingly awful and sacred. Those individuals who regard all the forces wielded by society as alien to them become increasingly humble, for the discrepancy between their individual powers and the power wielded by society in the person of the despot has become enormous. Caught up in the elaboration of the economic process, they are mere passive labouring units – slaves.
This religious alienation of themselves from the forces of society, this religious ‘humility’, is of course the reflex of a similar alienation in the realm of right or law. The products of society seem to an increasing extent to be due, not to them as individuals but to the forces arising from their association, which forces as we have seen, are all concentrated in the person of the god-king. The god-king comes therefore to own all these products, and to his subjects is granted only as much as will maintain them alive, and even this is a gift of the god-king, springing from his beneficence and mercy, and in no way a right due to them from him.
Meanwhile, round the god-king cluster all the administrative, clerical, priestly and warrior castes who receive a portion of the sacred effulgence of the monarch, for they too are custodians of part of the forces of society, and therefore with a qualified right in its products. Unlike the lower class – the subjects, slaves, or common people – this class has rights and privileges, and a sacredness which, while less than the despots, is still enough to separate them from the rightless. In a highly developed agricultural economy, there are products over and to spare beyond what is needed to maintain alive the exploited class.
This official class or aristocracy is naturally interested in maintenance of the system, yet their own sacredness and the fact that the running of all the forces of society is in their hands, give them a less absolute belief in the official religion. They have a strong sceptical tendency, and invariably generate a ‘refined’ religion of their own, free from the ‘superstitions’ of the ‘mob’, such as the Confucianism of China, the ‘esoteric’ teaching of Egypt, and the Brahmanic ‘philosophy’ of India. Hence, should the god-king prove personally obnoxious, they have little hesitation in replacing him by a palace-revolution.
There can be only one end to such a class society. There is an increasing split between the ruling class and the active, exploited class. The one becomes more and more functionless, parasitic, and ‘philosophic’, and the other more and more exploited, miserable, and superstitious. The productive process falls more and more into the hands of the ‘ignorant class’, who are pressed still more keenly for tribute, until a general impoverishment of agriculture and failure of the national economy begins to take place.
Such a culture soon becomes a hollow shell, which still keeps up a semblance of vigour, but is in fact slowly decaying. Its decay may last several centuries. The revolt of the exploited class will be sporadic and disorganised, for the nature of an economy of this kind is not such as to develop in the toilers the qualities which will make them in their turn able to rule. Such a decaying culture may split up into a number of feudal units, and revitalise itself because, in so doing, each local chief rallies round him as supporters his local exploited elan, and to do so improves their lot. The process will however only be repeated again, and out of local provinces will rise another Emperor. Or the kingdom may be exploited by a similar kingdom at a more vigorous stage of development. Or it may be over-run by pastoral invaders who with their more equalitarian social relations will revitalise the economy, only to see the kingdom perish once again in the misery of the exploited class as the economy drops.
This is the history of what Marx called the ‘Asiatic’ form of culture. It explains the despotisms, decays, disruptions, and dragging deaths-in-life of the great Empires of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, and Central and South America. All such empires are based on a settled agricultural economy involving irrigation works and the extensive co-ordination of agriculture. Their religion reflects this development and the way in which man’s self-feeling which has lost itself is projected in an inverted world. Inverted – because man’s abject humiliation before the forces of that world is a parody of his own exaltation by association in society. Yet as a parody, it is also criticism. Because of his humility, his exaltation is alienated from him and invested in another. The powers he creates are assumed by the ruling class, before which he abases himself. The law of his society, which includes his self-alienation from the goods he produces, is just that distortion of the real facts of social life which generates the inverted world of religion. Thus we see what Marx meant when he said that religion is an inverted consciousness of the world because that world is itself an inverted world. The exploited class, which is the real source of the productive power of society, places itself at the bottom of the pyramid by giving to the parasitic class the whole of the goods it produces beyond the bare minimum necessary for existence. The overt social structure is itself an inversion of the reality behind it. At first the ruling class is functional: as it becomes more sacred and division of labour grows it becomes more functionless and parasitic. Such a world becoming constantly more fully inverted is just the world which produces a more and more elaborate religion acting as a counterbalance. Finally, from having been a vital factor in economic production, magic, grown in to developed religion, has become the bulwark of a functionless class and therefore one of the fetters on economic production.
Into such an inverted world are necessarily projected all the distortions caused by the discrepancy between society’s outward forms and its real content. Such a society feeds its exploited with products belonging ‘of right’ entirely to the rulers: therefore the divinities are kind and generous. The feeding, the very life of the exploited class, depends entirely on a society in which they are alienated from the means of production: therefore their whole existence and life is dependent on God, and since all good things, all force ad power and knowledge, are resident in society, the misery can only come from another source, either from an anti-god or devil, or from themselves – from their sinfulness. Thus sin, which in primitive society is restricted to anti-social acts – the breaking of taboos or the malconduct of magical ceremonies – becomes in more developed societies an almost permanent condition of the populace. The religious dream life, by a well-known mechanism, becomes compensation or reflex, of the waking life. In proportion as life becomes more miserable and deprived, one’s dreams become richer and more full of content. In dreams, man’s ghost seems to wander and leave the body, and thus it becomes an article of such religions that in a future life the ghost, wandering in the other, inverted world, will inherit all the good things of that world.
Separate, ghostly existence as a concept is a result of dream. Immortal or long enduring existence as a concept is the result of the transmission by society of history and names and it is true that in this traditional other-world of society’s, men’s emanations do enjoy a life beyond life. This abstract fact becomes fantasically concrete in religion. At first this life beyond life is a perquisite of the king or famous men and so more accurately reflects the social basis of the belief; but as the economy develops and an exploited class grows, its urgent misery drives it to a demand for other-worldly goods. Since these ghostly goods can be granted without depriving the ruling class of real goods, the common people finds itself – for what it is worth – in possession of the fantastic privileges of its betters, to lead a life beyond life in the inverted world of religion. Successive layers of excavation clearly reveal this process in Egypt, where the immortality association with funerary rites, at first a perquisite of the god-king, gradually filters down to all classes. This fantastic realisation which is at once the expression of real misery and a protest against that real misery, which is, the sigh of the hard-pressed creature, therefore, like a neurotic or psychotic compensatory mechanism, acts as a stabilising factor against the growing misery of the people. Religion now finally, in the course of this long development, has become a safety-valve – the opium of the people. In the last stages such a society’s religion has as its most important content, not a pantheon of power, but salvation, release, from sin (i.e. from temporal misery), eternal life, divine love and consolation and fatherhood – or motherhood. It has become the ‘soul’ of a soulless world.
But even the god-king’s will is subject to checks. His prayers for harvest do not always prevail: this cannot be always interpreted as the sin of his people. Floods and earthquakes and pestilences come. Man, in spite of economic production, has not completely subdued nature. In other words the gods who symbolise the powers of economic production are not all-powerful. There is a process which even they cannot subdue.
This process therefore emerges as Fate, Law, Kismet, Karma, as a mechanical set process which even gods must obey. Because man is still projecting his self-feeling into nature, this force appears as a Will, but because it is distinguished from the gods it is a ‘recognition – after it has reached the more thoughtful and stabilised interpenetration with reality involved in an economic production that is religious – that there are things beyond the power of economic production. This disembodied Will, which sucks within itself all those phenomena proved not amenable to economic production but observed as a result of economic production, is therefore both the negation and the product of magic. It is the recognition, first of an arbitrary will, later (as we shall see) of a Law, which even the gods – i.e., society – cannot override. It is causality or determination in embryo. As society develops, determinism develops, for all society’s explorations of reality as a result of economic production, generate fresh evidence of processes which cannot be overridden. But just because they cannot be overridden, they can be predicted. They can be used. Causality or Kismet, becoming science, is once again fused with the economic production it at first negated. Society, by becoming conscious of necessity, becomes free of it.
Asiatic culture cannot, however, reach such a full understanding. The most refined philosophies of the ruling class of such a culture (Chinese and Indian) can only see reality as a theatre of wills or projected affects, for the overt forms their societies depend on various rights to effect one’s will, to dispose arbitrarily according to one’s individual desire of one’s land and subjects. The real content of the society is veiled from them, for such a world is an inverted world. The power of such a society does not in fact inhere in their wills but in the actions of the ruled class. Creativity does not flow from their desires as such, but only in so far as their desires enter as an active component into the actions of the exploited class and so into the productive movement of society.
In so far as their wills are opposed to the productive movement of society, they are merely obstructive, sucked of their real content, illusory and fantastic. To understand this would be to cease to be a ruling class, owning the means of production, and to become specialists, working the means of production. Hence such societies cannot advance beyond a philosophy of idealism, in which Will and Mind are dominant and Ideas have a supra-material, absolute existence outside the heads of men. Such an idealism is tawdry and limited because it commits the thinker to a closed, eternal world bound inside the categories of present theory, instead of presenting an open, timeful world in which theory is growing and enriching itself in active Penetration of matter. In the same way this society’s idea of causality, symbolised as Fate, can never escape from an arbitrariness, an air of magic and subjectivity, because cause is always seen as cause by a conscious force, or entity, which is simply the ruling class’s affective will projected into reality as an absolute.
In India, with its streams of invaders and constant movement, such a culture produces the pullulating pantheon of Hinduism, or achieves, in the Empire of Asoka, the metaphysical nihilism of Buddhism, in which society, having achieved its utmost limit, cannot escape from its social fetters or the infection of an exploited class, and sees stretching before it in all its helplessness the iron wheel of things, from which it would be a blessing to escape. Man seems to find himself for a moment in Buddhism, only to lose himself, for it is the product of a ruling class grown pessimistic of its office, and seeing blessedness as the cessation of will. It survives only by becoming a new religion, full of ‘salvation’ and divine love. In China, more shielded from invasion, the same development produces a static, rigid pantheon in the sky, with the causality of the Way above it, and at its apex the divine son of the Sky-Goddess, the Emperor, incarnation of the social forces on earth.
China and South and Central America remained units in isolation. India became a melting pot of invading waves. But Egypt, and to a lesser degree Babylonia and Crete, as centres of a more stable civilisation gradually exported to the fringes of the Mediterranean their wheat and settled agricultural production – all the technique which had made them elaborate centres of despotism. In the differing physical conditions of Greece, Asia Minor and Italy, however, this technique never advanced beyond the formation of city states. By the time these states had developed to the stage of small kingdoms, based on cities, settled agricultural production had ceased to be the main productive force of the societies they represented. They became, by reason of their topographical situation and the natural development of their fishing activities, real trading centres. Their smallness as units, separated by mountains and straits, encouraged trade – the sea was handy and a general highway. Shipbuilding and the like they already had from Egypt. Thus a new society emerged, in which the productive forces of society were disguised and made complex by the intervention of trafficking, and there was a numerous class which did not owe its position or its power to its specific place in the agricultural division of labour, but seemed to snatch its wealth out of the air. Such a society was even further confused by the incursion of pastoral peoples, as conquering waves, who imposed for a short time an alien economy, pantheon and social organisation upon the peoples they subdued.
Thus an entirely new economic development took place in which the city, as the trading centre, acquired a hegemony over agriculture, and the ruling class was at least partly a trading class. Such states, with their competitive basis, are necessarily disruptive – they are ‘free’ states quarrelling always about their privileges and freedoms, jealous of the liberties of their markets, and only reluctantly combining in the face of a common danger. It was bourgeoisdom in embryo, but the basis of all such states still remained agricultural, and the slave class created by settled agricultural economy was taken over, as a system, by the ‘free’ pastoral peoples and became the basic relation of agriculture and commodity production generally. Hence, in spite of the market for commodities, there was no market for labour-power – only for slaves. The conditions were not yet ripe for the development of bourgeois economy.
In such societies the tutelary deity of the city symbolised the productive forces of society, and production revolved round the city with its protective walls, and the domain it ruled. The god-king or hero or mighty mother of the local economy appears to fuse with the local pantheon of the incoming pastoral people – the father patriarch and his family. The more equalitarian economy of the pastoral people results in the gathering round the petty, divine king of a gerontocracy who ultimately depose him and are themselves – in Athens and elsewhere – deposed by the rising merchant class who form a democracy. This marks the apex of Greek development, and in Rome takes the form of the transfer from the senatorial to the ‘knightly’ class. The very strife between the agricultural and merchant ruling classes is insoluble within the framework of a slave-owning society, and ultimately brings about the break-down of Hellenic economy. But before its collapse it has given birth, in the momentary efflorescence of Athenian, Ionian and Corinthian prosperity, to the culture whose bold speculation reflects the scepticism and untraditional cosmopolitanism of the rising merchant classes. Hellenic philosophy, however, in spite of its moments of splendid balance, never escapes from the limitations of a slave-owning class whose slaves, interposed as a buffer between themselves and nature, prevent their philosophy emerging as completely positive and scientific. In Ionia it is revolutionary: with Plato more conservative: always it is fresh and critical, but always it is unable to get beyond a self-feeling which has not found itself. It remains a religious philosophy, which projects Will into nature, sees causality as Fate or Divine Law, and explains reality in terms of human Purposes, Forms or Ideas existing independently of human brains or real matter.
In its prime able to overturn the despotism of the East and penetrate into India, Greece becomes, as slave-owning develops on a merchant basis, the centre of intolerable antagonisms. It thus falls a victim to the centralised despotic monarchy. The Empires with their god-kings come in to being again. Merchant towns, such as Alexandria, remain the centre of scepticism and a critical attitude to divinity, but the demoralisation of the slaves is reflected in the universal reign of the various mystery religions, full of salvation and immortal life. They had existed in the early agricultural despotisms of Mycenean civilisation (Demeter and the Eleusinian mysteries) but had sunk into the background with the invasion of the Hellenes. These Hellenes had a full-blooded pastoral economy, in which life, lived to the full in this world, required only a short, shadow existence in the next. The mystery religions emerged triumphantly again when this Hellenic rejuvenation, so brief and glorious, in turn produced an enormous exploited class, demanding in its inverted world the life denied it in the real world.
While therefore the East continued its old despotisms, and the Greek god-kings flourished, blown upon by scepticism only in the cities, Rome was establishing in Italy a hegemony which no Greek city, with its less favourable topography, was able to achieve. Rome too had an agricultural god-king (Saturn) who was replaced by a pastoral god-patriarch (Jove). In Rome too, therefore, it may be supposed that a pastoral people conquered a settled agricultural people, and the resulting fusion begot a king and a gerontocracy (the senate) which finally deposed the king, and was itself deposed by a trading class. It is no accident that Rome on the Tiber was a trading centre, and the emergence of her senate and equestrian classes must have been due to the emergence of a merchant class beneath the veil of agricultural and pastoral social relations. This class rapidly becomes a predatory and powerful class, its army of ‘citizens’ being far superior to Oriental despotisms or more decadent Greek cities. Its religion, so similar to the Greek, yet reflects the greater insularity and ‘purity’ of Roman development, farther removed from Egyptian and Eastern ideology. Patriarchial relations, relics of a pastoral people, affect the ideology of the ruling class and give it a sternness and absoluteness in its dealings with other peoples that is regarded as typically Roman.
The spread of Roman influence necessarily involves the creation of a huge predatory class, the senatorial and knightly, whose increasing wealth is the reflection of the increasing exploitation, unknown to those Asiatic despotisms in which the ruling class at least remains part and parcel of the economy it exploits. The Roman ruling class is, however, a trading, absentee class. Such a non-functional class, in which the forces of society seem to be wielded by men who take no active interest in the worlds they rule, gives rise to stoicism, in which the gods are absentee landlords, and the world shuffles on as well as it can. Such a religion can only arise in a general demoralisation such as that which overtook the Roman world in the last years of the Republic. The absentee, predatory class, by their very absenteeism, had prepared their own downfall, and it was possible first for Cæsar and then Augustus and his successors to rule through an administrative class of freemen, a new bureaucracy whose creation involves the death of the older exploiters. The Roman Empire takes on more and more Oriental characteristics, and, as slave-owning economy develops again an the basis of local and centralised bureaucracies, with the trading cities included in the social plexus, we have the final stage of classical economy. The pivot of the stage has become the god-king, the Emperor, who rules his people as the master rules his slaves, and in whom seem concentrated all the productive forces of society. Beneath him are grouped an aristocracy who derive their ‘sacredness’ from him and regard him with veiled scepticism. Their own religion is some or other form of a refined idealistic philosophy, which in a certain gap opened between the gods and reality, reflects the complexity of this stage of economy, in which the god-king rules indirectly through various channels and no longer dwells in the midst of society as in the simpler Egyptian despotism. But to the vast exploited class the god-king and the tutelary deity he represents, is still the incarnation of the forces of society. Round him clusters whatever cult or pantheon has been inherited, but his figure is central and he guarantees the Roman Law, creation of the new bureaucracy, which secures the smooth functioning of the productive economy, and at once oppresses them and keeps them this side of extinction.
Such a society can only repeat the history of past despotisms. The cleavage between the slave-owners and the slaves, the vain rebellion of the slaves, brings about an increasing exploitation of the slave and serf classes, and an increasing impoverishment of society. The structure, because of its complexity, size, and military efficiency, is not as yet challengeable by any other power outside.
It is however challenged by an internal power. Christianity appears, a new religion in which the eternal happiness promised by mystery religions in the next world is to be realised in this world by the practice of a new form of social relations – primitive communism. Each church is a group of the faithful holding all material goods in common, in possession of salvation, and waiting until Christ their King shall return to earth and realise the millennium in the universal reign of primitive communism. Whatever gave this programme its detailed form, however much it owed to the Essenes, to the Galilean village economy, to the personality of Christ, and to the nationalism of Palestine, it was evidently the bodying forth of the aspirations of the exploited class. It is a religion of revolution.
It is misleading to regard Christianity as simply another ‘mystery’ religion (such as Mithraism or the cult of Isis) which because of some superior attractiveness carried the day against its rivals. This is to see religion not as a social reality but as the adventure of an idea. The Isis and Mithraistic cults were ordinary products of Asiatic misery and classical decay, promising in the next world salvation and healing for the miseries of this. Christianity was distinct from religions of this kind because of its tougher, this-worldly content. The millennium was to come in this world, the Kingdom of Heaven was to be realised here. It was led by a revolutionary figure – Christ, whose apparently unsuccessful rebellion had according to his disciples really been a triumph.
For along time now the Roman Empire had been decaying, so that the social relations it represented had become a fetter on the productive powers. The god-Emperor and his staff had ceased to be functional units of society and had become mere tax-gathering and defence organs which were not even working efficiently as such. The decay of communications and the loosening of the economic cords that had held the Empire together, drove the god-king and his staff wildly about the Empire in an attempt to hold together with the superstructure of law and administration what was already falling apart as the result of the increasing decomposition of agriculture. The Empire was returning whence it had sprung, as the result of the impoverishment of the soil by latifundia and the general demoralisation of the exploited class. Local landlords were leaving their estates wholesale because of the increasing relative burden of taxation.
This economic devolution was reflected in the growth of Christianity, particularly in the large towns which as the bonds slackened were naturally the first to feel the functionlessness of the god-Emperor’s régime. Christianity was the equivalent of a nationalist movement, but no nations existed in the cosmopolitan Roman Empire. The choice was between the City or local community and the Empire. The nearest to a nationalist movement was in Jerusalem and it was precisely in Jerusalem that Christianity arose round the person of a typical Jewish prophet, Jesus. The local exploiting class of Jerusalem, the ‘Scribes and Pharisees’, had however come to terms with the conqueror, the relation somewhat resembling that between the British Government and the de Valera Government in Ireland. Although their interests are opposed, both are rooted in the same class society and both therefore are opposed to a Workers’ Republic of the type now being fought for there. Jesus evidently also had in mind a ‘People’s Republic’, in which goods would be shared in common, there would be neither master nor man, and exploitation would cease. He believed it however to be possible within the framework of the existing State (Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s.) In other words, he did not regard it as necessary that the seizure of power should take place as a preliminary to the inauguration of the People’s Commune or Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, the idea of which – so poetically and idealistically unfolded – secured him his tremendous support among the working class of Palestine, who listened to his denunciations of the rich.
This reformist instead of revolutionary approach was just what secured the defeat of Christianity. Such demonstrations as that of the entry into Jerusalem showed the wide measure of popular support he had obtained, but with no programme of action directed to the seizure of power, this basis of popular support was useless. Jesus appears to have hesitated a long time before the choice of appearing as the Messiah and so focusing the nationalistic aspirations of the Jews. He finally claimed the position, yet as a Messiah who could not seize power but assume it by prayer, by ‘magic’. Such was not the Jewish conception of the Messiah; it seemed indeed to sincere Jewish patriots a betrayal of the national revolution, and a familiar situation was enacted when the Pharisees consolidated their power and that of the Roman bosses on whom they depended by an impudent appeal to the national feeling of the Jews. Jesus was thus branded as a blasphemer – as ‘anti-social’.
Thus, by his treatment of the vital question of workers’ power, Jesus had from the start ensured the defeat of his communist programme. That part of the programme which involved the actual coming into being of the communist state became inverted, because it was to come into being in a reformist way by its own ideal appeal – miraculously. The Kingdom of Heaven therefore gradually became ‘the millennium’ and eventually was altogether shifted into another world. The misery of the exploited classes of the Roman Empire was first reflected as a revolutionary possibility now, but finally became a dream, a compensatory wish-fulfilment like that of other mystery religions, a fantastic salvation criticising and yet stabilising real misery here. This reformist step appears to have been taken by Christ at the very moment when he forbade Peter to use violence. He was prepared to whip the money-changers out of the Temple but not out of the State. This fact itself reflected the inability of the exploited classes of the Roman Empire to organise a revolt with any success. In spite of Christ’s denunciation of rich men, a policy of class collaboration was forced on Christianity by the demoralisation of the workers.
When Jesus was executed, therefore, it was natural that instead of regarding this as the first defeat in a long revolutionary war certain of ultimate victory (as the proletariat regarded the defeat of the Paris Commune) the followers of Jesus decided to see it as an other-worldly triumph, as a wish-fulfilment victory. But this apparently astute move – no doubt quite naïve and sincere – while it appeared to consolidate Christianity, also finally consolidated the reformist element in it. Since Jesus’s victory was already realised, it was merely a matter of waiting for the Kingdom to come into being. The emphasis had already shifted from revolution in this world to salvation in the next. None the less the tougher quality of Christianity as compared to the mystery religions was shown in the fact that at least the Kingdom of Heaven was to be realised soon in this world. The end of the world (i.e., the beginning of the ideal world-commune) was at hand.
The propagandist element of Christianity now centred in the organisation of the Churches and the love-feast. This was an attempt (rather like the modern co-operative movement) to realise the primitive communism of the Kingdom of Heaven within the framework of the existing state, through autonomous local communities.
All goods were to be held in common and administered by officials, the poor were to be cared for. All were equal within the Church or commune. The organisation had therefore something of the character, not only of a cooperative movement but of early forms of trade union organisation with their friendly and benefit activities. Such centres could be made active organs of revolutionary activity in the Roman Empire.
The movement grew rapidly. It had of course the advantage of dissemination in the first stages by a cosmopolitan body, the Jews, who were most active and influential in precisely those places – the large towns – where devolutionary tendencies were most strongly marked. The fact that Jesus had been executed by the native exploiting class prevented Christianity from being a Jewish national movement, and it soon spread to the uncircumcised.
It became dangerous to the Empire when it began to attract to itself all those elements of the ruling classes in the towns and in the army who found themselves in opposition to the centralising government of the Empire. These were the landlords so heavily taxed that they had to be ordered to remain on their estates, and the dispossessed and expropriated aristocrats and knights. These, corresponding to the declassed or revolutionary petite bourgeoisie of to-day, gave a stiffening to what had been mainly a slave or lumpen proletarian movement. Thus stiffened and organised, Christianity had the courage openly to challenge the existing State power. Christians refused to worship the god-Emperor. Since the god-Emperor was the embodiment and focus of the social forces of the Empire this was an open revolutionary act; and it was accompanied by the formation of illegal self-governing units, the Church communes, which were just as revolutionary challenges to the existing fabric of social relations as the denial of the Emperor’s divinity.
In spite of the general looseness and decay of the Roman Empire this challenge had to be met, and whenever an efficient Emperor was functioning, it was met by a vigorous counter-revolutionary drive. All the familiar apparatus of counter-revolution – slander, espionage, whipping up of racial feeling (the ‘Nazarenes’) and provocative acts (Nero’s burning of Rome) – were used in the struggle. Of course the general dissolution of the Roman Empire ensured that for long periods and in many provinces no counter-revolutionary movement at all took place.
Christianity survived the persecution well. The growing burden of centralism produced a communist and devolutionary feeling everywhere. The Army and the Civil Service were infected with it; it even invaded the Emperor’s household. But Christianity had been committed by Jesus to a fatal policy, that of passive resistance, or non-co-operation. It is therefore possible that in the collapsing Roman Empire Christianity played the same rôle as Gandhism in the collapsing British Empire in India and was the means whereby the revolt was canalised and turned into safe forms of activity.
This itself in India is a reflection of the fact that Gandhism is a peasant movement and the peasants form a class which is not a class, which owing to the peasant’s isolation cannot act in an organised manner; its members can act only as individuals. An individual cannot revolt forcibly; he cannot set himself up against the whole State. He can only resist passively ‘to the death’. This Christ did, and so did all the revolutionary elements among his followers. The less revolutionary elements recanted until the storms blew over and this of course strengthened ultimately the forces of reformism in the Church. The Roman exploited class was a slave class divided into households and latifundia and therefore unorganised. Christianity was an attempt to achieve such an organisation on a metropolitan and area basis, or, in the legions (where Christian cells were formed) on a functional basis. But the whole pressure of rebellion was towards decentralisation, and it was perhaps inevitable that Christian revolt should be passive and non-co-operative. Certainly it was correct in not attempting to bolster up or seize the Imperial power, for it was this power which was obsolete. Christianity’s rôle was to strengthen the decentralising movements within the Empire by setting up autonomous local communes tied by fraternal understanding. These were the Churches. But the early Christians were not prepared to fight for the existence of these communes, and it was this which brought about the defeat of the whole revolutionary movement.
The most efficient Roman Emperor, Diocletian, attempted to combat revolution with reform. While launching a vigorous counter-revolution or ‘persecution’, he also introduced a considerable amount of decentralisation in the Empire, dividing it into four autonomous units. Although this move was probably inevitable, it merely hastened the disintegration of the Empire. Its increasing impoverishment was bringing about a rapid devolution.
In remote Britain, however, Constantine had seen the creative rôle of Christianity and its absolute inevitability in the advanced disintegration of the Empire. Local autonomy was bound to come. With great shrewdness, he saw that Christianity had also advanced to a stage where it could be relied upon to co-operate with the powers against which it was originally in revolt. Himself of proletarian origin, Constantine understood precisely the rôle Christianity was playing in relation to the masses. Like Hitler in a Germany ‘menaced’ with Socialism, Constantine, faced with the menace of Christianity, saw how to make this revolutionary feeling the means of bringing him to power, not as a revolutionary leader but within the framework of the existing State. Thus Constantine’s legions, like Hitler’s Nazis, having been promised the fall programme of revolution, swept him to power, after which he found no difficulty in consolidating his position within the imperial machine and dropping the revolutionary programme.
In order to understand his success, it is necessary to bear in mind the part played by the leaders of social democracy in the period 1890-1936. They found themselves, like the Christian bishops, priests and deacons, as elected officials of organisations which were revolutionary in aim, having as their goal in one case the establishment of socialism and in the other, the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven (primitive communism), but both designed to realise part of their revolutionary aims now – the trades unions and parliamentary parties by gaining wage concessions within the framework of capitalism, the Churches by friendly and benefit activities among the poor. The elected officials soon became permanent ones and eventually they found themselves with commanding positions, honours, and vested interests in maintaining on the one hand the existing society and on the other hand the revolutionary organisation which gave them their job. Hence the social democratic leaders in all countries played the same part. They were prepared to co-operate in all vital matters with the ruling class – the maintenance of law and order, the waging of Imperialist war, the sabotaging of political strikes or demonstrations, the stifling of extra-parliamentary action, and the crushing of revolutionary socialism (Bolshevism). At the same time they kept their organisations alive by the expression of revolutionary sentiments, and by attacking the ruling class on minor issues.
Constantine evidently found that the development of Christianity had produced in the revolutionary movement just such a class of leaders. They were willing to ‘go over’ to the god-king in return for being given an important place in the administration of the Empire. The administrative class as a whole had no hesitation, in view of the general scepticism of such an epoch, in ‘embracing’ Christianity. The Church became Imperial and the bulwark of the god-king’s power. The completely insincere nature of Constantine’s bargain with Christianity is shown by the fact that he himself never became a Christian.
Thus the forces of the Christian revolutionary movement were placed at the service of the counter-revolution. The priests became State officials and the Churches State organs. All the revolutionary content of the Christian programme, the Kingdom of Heaven, the millennium, was shifted entirely into the next world. The love-feast, at which material food was shared in common, became the ideal sacrifice of the Mass in which only a ‘token’ food was shared out. The communion of goods dwindled to the administration of a poor law by the priests. Christianity became a mystery-religion, full of the neo-Platonism, Mithraism and Isis-cult remnants derived from earlier mystery religions. At the very moment when it buttressed the greed of the upper classes, it started to preach to the lower the virtues of abstinence, fasting, poverty, and self-denial. Such a betrayal was of course only possible with a movement which had already been bewildered, and from the start, by the reformism of Jesus’s fatal choice: – ‘Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s and to God the things that are God’s,’ which seemed at the time such a clever escape from a difficult political situation. This bewilderment was made permanent by the hailing of Jesus’s execution as another-worldly triumph, not a this-worldly set-back. This again had seemed a clever move at the time. Yet, like Socialism in Germany and Italy, Christianity had been defeated by this refusal to place in the forefront the vital question of power.
Of course the step taken by Constantine had been prepared by the development of Roman economy. The leaders of Christianity had already become wealthy and influential persons in the society of their time. Constantine’s action therefore only regularised a process which had long been going on below the surface. By incorporating Christianity into the superstructure he stiffened it and enabled the Roman Empire to survive, at least in the East. Christianity itself was of course transformed in the process and became Greek Orthodoxy, an organ of the State with a ritual, a pantheon, and a Hellenistic monotheism which reflected the despotic Imperialism round which it was built.
The impoverishment of the Roman Empire, increasing the incidence of taxation, had expropriated large numbers of the land-owning class, in spite of the edicts forbidding them to give up their estates. The attempt by the central authority to squeeze still more surplus value from their slaves often resulted in the nominal ‘freeing’ of slaves, and the creation of serfs. It was in these circumstances that the local landowners, as well as the slaves, had welcomed the freedom from centralised responsibility involved in the communism of primitive Christianity. In the finish Roman Imperial economy became an economy of local peasants, serfs, decaying cities and harassed landowners. The revolutionary content of Christianity now appeared as the revolt, not (as originally) of the common people, but of the local ruling class. The Arian heresy and its successors was one form of this: the breaking away of the Western Church was another.
Meanwhile the barbarians penetrated the Empire – partly by importation, to swell the declining population of the Empire, partly by actual conquest. They were sucked in rather than invading it. Their social relations and pastoral conceptions of status were more suited to an economy in which wealth and money were vanishing.
In this disintegration the Church in the West acted as a bulwark of the older civilisation only because she was a bulwark of the older economy. In the worst days of the Roman Empire, when reduction in population became a social virtue, communities of men and women vowed to chastity had assembled in the attempt to form a new communism, now that it was no longer faced by a centralised and powerful government, proved successful, and everywhere the Benedictine monastery sprang up, and became the manor – the model agricultural unit. Meanwhile the secular clergy, the bishop and the priest, had become intimately associated with the economic life of the neighbourhood in a way impossible to the Imperial agent. When the barbarians trickled in, the Imperial tax-gathering bureaucracy fled, but the priests and bishops, drawing and consuming their tribute locally, stayed on. Thus the invaders found themselves confronted by a homogeneity of organisation in the regions they penetrated, which was intimately associated with the very life of the land. To disrupt this would be to disrupt life itself, for economic production would cease. At the same time the disappearance of the Imperial agents, the number of absentee local landowners, and the decentralising tendency of the Western Church, made it possible for the land to be parcelled between barbarians and Church without disaster. Thus Christendom stood for these barbarians as something universal and ordered and civilised – a Law given in the nature of things – for the whole superior economy they penetrated and took over revolved round it. They were therefore ‘converted’, not only were they themselves changed but they also changed Christianity and increased the decentralising trend of the Church by giving Christianity a ‘barbarian’ form. Feudal social relations thus came into being and, just as barbarians adopted the Church, the Church adopted feudal forms of land tenure.
The Western Church found itself faced with the complete break-up of its European organisation as the result of feudal autonomy. The only remedy was celibacy, and this already existed in embryo in the form of monastic chastity, itself a product of the dwindling of the Roman Empire’s wealth and the hallmark of a failing agricultural economy. By making its officials celibate, the Church avoided the dynastic trends of other Imperial officials, who had made hereditary what was originally a delegated power. Celibacy preserved the centralised control of the Church without the need for Imperial stratagems such as the continual shifting of officials. A bishop could be safely allowed to become part and parcel of the life of his neighbourhood, without the danger of his founding a dynasty. This celibacy in itself brought about a separation between priestly and secular branches of the ruling class unknown to any previous civilisations. Without it, undoubtedly, the Western Church would have disintegrated and disappeared into a number of local churches.
Thus Christendom emerged in Western Europe as the one universal idea because it was the one universal organisation. Its courts, its law, its universal provision of salvation, justice and learning, and its alms-giving activities, were but the reflection of its standardising and organising rôle in the economy of Western Europe. There was a coming and going of scholars and merchandise and commodities, there was exchange of learning, a homogeneity of social relations, a standardisation of agriculture and viticulture in Western Europe, precisely because bishop and monastery provided an interweaving substratum of organised agriculture and trade, a higher level of technical production, which prevented the Dark Ages from being really dark, from ever relapsing into the anarchy of unorganised units. The clerical class was the clerkly class, charged with the keeping of accounts, of farm records, and all the administrative duties essential to an organised agriculture. This power in society, transcending local and territorial boundaries, was expressed in the hierarchy of heaven, with its centralised Divine administration, its God, and the god-king on earth – the Pope of Rome, and his various sacred representatives, bishops, priests, and monks. It was expressed in the towns, made possible by the organisation of Christian economy, and therefore rightly centred round the cathedral, the brilliant expression of feudal life.
But the ‘lay’ landlords, with their unfeudalised, dynastic basis, found themselves, as they grew in intelligence and organisation, eventually in sharp conflict with a celibate, centralised, ecclesiastical organisation. The growing feudal concentration expressed itself not only as a steady transformation of social relations, but as a violent antagonism between the feudal lords themselves, between the various summits of the lay feudal pyramids – the monarchies, and between these and the Church, and the growing bourgeois class in the towns; while exploited by them all was the mass of peasants, descendants of the serfs and slaves of Imperial Rome. Feudal landlordism was in any case doomed: ultimately it would succumb to a centralised monarchy which would itself be only a stage in the emergence of the bourgeois class created in the rising medieval towns. In different countries the antagonism took different forms. Where the monarchy and the bourgeois class joined against a weakened feudalism, assisted by the oppressed peasantry, a breach was made in all the fixed privileges of feudalism. A Reformation, the first step in the bourgeois Revolution, then took place.
This Reformation voiced the demands of bourgeois production in the clearest way. Salvation was no longer the monopoly of the feudal state organisation, but of the individual freely electing for it. The Church was not a body of faithful bound by overtly symbolised social relations (prayers for the dead, Purgatory, the Community of the Saints) but a mere collection of individuals who sank or swam separately according to the grace of God.
God now became arbitrary and dreadful. Corresponding to a society where the individual appears to be naked, dependent entirely on his own efforts in the face of nature, and where all social relations such as alms-giving, craft agreements and price regulations were abandoned as fetters on development, Calvinism emerged. In this form of religion God’s will seemed immovable by the prayer of society and confronted only the bare individual. Like an outside Fate, it damned or saved him arbitrarily, not in spite of but through his efforts. Thus Protestantism accurately expressed the true character of the bourgeois society in which the individual is most subject to external ‘accident’, most helpless and unfree in the face of Fate, precisely because it is the society in which nominally the individual is most free and most able to develop his inner will.
Many ‘heresies’, such as that of the Albigenses, had before this expressed the revolt of the exploited classes against the feudal landlords. Only a revolt led by the bourgeoisie and based on the large towns, could be successful. Bourgeois and peasants and monarch were able for a time to make common cause because their enemies were at that stage the same – the big feudal lords.
Catholicism and Calvinism, one representing the feudal class, the other the bourgeois class, struggle and achieve various compromises: the compromise of the English Church (which is battered first by the Puritan Revolution and then by the Industrial, Methodist and non-conformist Revolution, both representing developing petty bourgeois interests); the compromise of the Gallican Church (with a greater feudal mixture, which is shattered by the French Revolution); of the various German Churches; of the Spanish Church (in which the Crown ends by being identified again with the feudal, land-owning grandees); and of the Netherlands. In all cases the bourgeois is placed in the same anomalous position, in that the real fulfilment of his creed – complete absence of social restraints – would lead either to anarchy or communism. It would lead in both cases to the abolition of the one social restraint by which he lives – private property. At a certain stage of the Revolution he is therefore forced to hold it back and support a counter-revolution in order to prevent the peasantry (as Luther in Germany), or the petty bourgeoisie (as in the Restoration of Charles II), or the proletariat (as the Thermidorians in France) from throwing off their chains. He is forced to go back on his nominal programme, and maintain the coercive, centralised State and the authoritarian Church in order to maintain the basis of his class. This results in all the illogical and bastard varieties of reformist Christianity which sprang into being with every stage of the bourgeois revolution. Catholicism alone remains ‘pure’, as the expression of the land-owning and primarily peasant-exploiting ruling classes, in Spain, Italy, South America and France, or, alternatively, as the religion of those exploited classes, even under bourgeois rule, who are exploited as peasants. To such, Catholicism, with its inverted world of rich dreams to make up for the real misery of the peasant’s world, is the necessary religion and, as in Ireland, will appear to express their interests as against a bourgeois imperialist class. Catholicism is the religion of the special misery of the peasant and also of the rule of the landowners, just as Protestantism is the religion of the misery of the ‘free’ labourer and also of the rule of the bourgeois. The glories and richly populated heaven of the Catholic reflect the meaner, barer world of the peasant, just as the sterner heaven of the Protestant symbolises the less degraded existence of the exploited proletariat.
The logical end of the bourgeois religion was Deism. The bourgeois class was a class which denied social relations and, in doing so, necessarily denied all the symbolisations of social relations in religion. Hence the Reformation demanded the sweeping away of Purgatory, of the saints, of all rites and ceremonies. Only the Spirit, indwelling in man, was left in Puritanism. This Spirit itself was simply the symbol of Will as the bourgeois believes it to be – spontaneous, free, and undetermined.
Religion, however, also symbolised man’s relations to Nature through society. In so far as the social forces of society – symbolised by God – are not all powerful, but meet with checks and must obey ‘natural’ laws, there seems something behind God, something greater than man’s idealisation of human will, and this more powerful system is regarded as Fate, or God’s own edict which he will only occasionally disobey by working miracles.
Now this order in nature is unfolded to view by man’s very interpenetration with nature. Hence the superior technical efficiency of bourgeois economy, beginning with Galileo and da Vinci, generated an increasingly over-riding conception of this Fate or of God’s unchangeable Will which, as more and more was learned about it, seemed more and more impersonal, empty, and mechanical. Via Descartes, Newton, Hobbes and the Encyclopaedists, this Fate became a transparent Deism which was almost indistinguishable from mechanical materialism, and became completely atheistic at the most revolutionary period of bourgeois struggle.
This itself was an expression of the bourgeois revolutionary movement. For it the world is automatic and mechanical – the problem of life is not in society but in the environment. All social restraints must therefore be removed to permit the maximum utilisation, investigation and exploitation of the environment, i.e., of property. This attitude to God and Nature became a charter of bourgeois revolution.
Such a movement inevitably meant that the propertyless exploited class, the proletariat, whose help was always demanded by the bourgeois in their revolutions, wanted to go still further, and abolish the social restraint of property which, by holding them in bondage, by arbitrarily and non-scientifically carving up the environment, denied the bourgeoisie’s own slogan: ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.’
In practice therefore the bourgeoisie drew back before Deism and from 1793 to 1936 there was a series of retreating movements resulting in the maintenance of some kind of Church or official church theology which was arbitrary and coercive, just as the bourgeois State in spite of its democratic slogans was arbitrary and coercive – because the restraint of property could only be maintained arbitrarily and coercively. It became generally accepted that some religious instruction was ‘good’ for the people. Thus, although already riddled with bourgeois criticism, religion was officially maintained by the bourgeois class, even though they themselves only partially or prevaricatingly believed in it.
This was accompanied later by a similar retreat in science. The recognition of the determined nature of the environment should have resulted in a recognition of the true nature of that determinism in society as a whole. This would have meant the destruction of the fundamental bourgeois position: that unsocialised bourgeois property is justified because the bourgeois will is free in itself, the sole active centre in society. Acceptance of this determinism would have led, not only to the ‘naturalisation’ of humanity but also to the ‘humanisation’ of nature, which in the bourgeois scheme is mechanical, empty of human values and Newtonian. Instead of accepting his interpenetration, which would have involved the rejection of the bourgeois illusion, bourgeois theory swung over to the projection of the bourgeois human (not the scientific human) into nature. This led, as we show more fully in the essay, Reality, to absolute Idealism, which marked the final stage of coercive bourgeoisdom – the arbitrary Prussian State, with its negation of bourgeois theories of freedom; a State which was yet maintained by the imperative needs of bourgeois private property. In such a State a Professor could be dismissed after writing a simple book on ethics, by a decision of the Prussian Minister of Education which stated: ‘that it was not a single passage which had given offence but the whole Scheme, and that a philosophy which did not deduce everything from the Absolute could not be considered to be a philosophy at all.’ The Absolute thus revealed itself in the rôle it was to play thereafter – the absolute demand that the State should protect private property and express the interests of the ruling class, even if it means war, economic disaster, and starvation, a demand that makes the guardian of private property seem to tower above society as the totalitarian State.
Thus the final disintegration of bourgeois culture is an elaborate phenomenon. The Will of God or Fate has, by the increasing technical achievement of the bourgeois become causality, but only as applied to non-living matter for the bourgeois cannot admit himself to be a determined individual – to do so would be to uncover the determining relations which are all social relations. The consciousness of these determining relations is simply Marxism, the world view of the revolutionary proletariat. Thus the bourgeois reserves for himself an area of spontaneity or non-causality in all values in which the human mind is concerned, and since there is no determinism there, they are all arbitrary and might be anything. This is expressed in some such formula as ‘Science leaves man free to believe what he will.’ ‘Science applies to a different sphere from that of religion.’
Precisely because the development of bourgeois culture is the development of individualistic anarchy, religion has ceased to-day to be the expression of a coherent economy and becomes mere individualism. For this reason religion has become something widely abstracted from the concrete existence of men – at the opposite pole from the indwelling magic of the primitive, permeating all social life. The disintegration of bourgeois culture is marked by the appearance of thousands of different religions, systems of belief and idealistic philosophies – theosophy, spiritualism, Oxford Groupism, psycho-analysis (in its mystical form), Anthroposophy, and also all the varieties of belief that have sprung up within the nominal framework of one religion such as English Protestantism. These religions are all alike in that on the one hand, by their exaltation of the freedom and spontaneity of the spirit, they give a wish-fulfilment consolation to the hard-pressed human creature helpless as never before in the blind grip of an anarchic society; and, on the other hand, by their detachment of human values from material, by their idealism, by their denial of science and determination in all important spheres, they help to maintain things as they are, and struggle against any attempt of man to acknowledge and control the material forces of society. Thus the very disintegration of religion into all forms of mysticism and idealism, while it reflects the demoralisation of the society that produces this, by no means brings about an automatic collapse into rationality. On the contrary, this very disintegration and mysticism, this haze of bewilderment and cross-purposes, serves as a conservative force and a barricade of counter-revolution. To the counter-revolution every second gained is precious, however it is gained. All obstructions are aids and all haze or darkness valuable. The struggle against the real material misery of the world that produces this ideological haze must be an active struggle not merely to shatter existing society but to seize its forms and transform them; not merely to deny existing bourgeois ideology but to fuse its shattered fragments and use their content for a further ideological advance. It is not a question of posing religion against atheism; it is a question of turning an anarchic, neurotic society into an organised and sane one. This is a revolutionary task.
Beneath the ideological haze is an iron core, the maintenance by force of outworn social relations, the maintenance of bourgeois private property. This was only secured by the creation of the coercive State, and, as the revolt against capitalism grows stronger, so the State emerges as more absolute, coercive, and irrational. It becomes the Moloch to which decency, humanity, even religion itself must be sacrificed, not for any reason given but as an Absolute Imperative behind which we must not look, for if we look behind it we shall find the simple claim to profit. It is just this Absolute which symbolises the bourgeois right to property which now – no longer based on logic, reason or convenience – becomes a new God, a God of Force and Hate.
This new religion of bourgeois decadence is Imperialism, the patriotism of the monopoly stage of capitalism. The State comes first, all must be sacrificed to the interests of the nation, including the lives of other nations and the health and happiness of one’s own people. Because the bourgeois property interests are interests now sharply opposed to those of the people as a whole, these interests and this State now separate themselves from the people and appear as Divine and Sacred entities whom to deny or attack is wicked, a blasphemy beyond the blasphemy of religion. Religions dating from early periods of capitalist developments, before the coming of monopoly, find their symbolisations to be in conflict with the Moloch, and thus we find ranged against the State, and its absolute claim to enforce the naked property right of the bourgeois, large strata of the people still professing the old bourgeois religions, as well as the class-conscious proletariat. This Moloch patriotism, born during the jingo period of British Imperialism and in the Prussian State, reached a new height during the 1914-18 War, and has received its final expression in Fascism. Against Fascism therefore appears a United Front of the proletariat supported by many Christians – the past and the future both denying the outrageous present. In that struggle ideology is transformed and religion – in the actual struggle shedding its illusions one by one – finds its fantastic reality sucked into material reality, and its inverted world stood on its feet. It emerges as the self-feeling of a man who has found himself in society – as the consciousness of a classless society.
The passage from which sentences are quoted appeared at the start of this essay.
‘The man who has found in the fantastic reality of heaven, where he sought a supernatural being, no more than his own reflection, will no longer be satisfied to find only the semblance of himself, only the unhuman, where he seeks, and must seek, his true reality.
‘The basis of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. And, in truth, religion is consciousness of self and the self-feeling of a man who has not yet found himself or has lost himself again. Also, man is not an abstract being existing outside the world. Man – that is, the world of men, the State, society. This State, this society, produces religion – an inverted consciousness of the world – because the world itself is an inverted world. Of this world religion is the general theory, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular thought, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn completion, its universal ground for truth and justification. It is the imaginary realisation of the human essence, necessary because the human essence has no true reality. The struggle against religion is therefore, indirectly, the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.
‘Religious misery is at once the expression of real misery and a protest against that real misery. Religion is the sigh of the hard-pressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, the spirit of unspiritual conditions. It is the opium of the people.
‘The removal of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. The demand that they should give up illusions about their real conditions is the demand that they should give up the conditions which make illusion necessary. Criticism of religion is therefore at heart a criticism of the vale of misery for which religion is the promised vision.
‘Criticism has torn away the imaginary flowers with which his chains were decked, not in order that man should wear his chains without the comfort of illusions, but that he may throw off the chains and pluck the living flowers. Criticism of religion disillusions man so that he may think, act and shape his reality as one who is disillusioned and come to full understanding, so that he may move on his own axis and thus be his own sun. Religion is but the false sun which revolves around him while he is not yet fully aware.
‘Thus it is the function of history, after the other-worldly truth has collapsed, to establish this world’s truth. Then, it is the function of philosophy, in the service of history, having destroyed the supernatural semblance of man’s self-alienation, to go on and destroy the secular form of this self-alienation. Criticism of heaven thus turns into criticism of the world, criticism of religion into criticism of law, and criticism of theology into criticism of politics.'
1. The sentences on which Caudwell comments in the next few pages are quoted from a famous passage in Marx’s Introduction to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law, given in full at the end of this essay.(Ed.)
2. Audrey I. Richards. Hunger and Work in a Savage Tribe, 1932.
3. This was written about 1936 (transcriber)
4. Karl Marx: Introduction to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law