Joseph Dietzgen 1870-75
First published: in Volksstaat during the years 1870-1875;
Joseph Dietzgen, Philosophical Essays, Charles H. Kerr & Company, Chicago, 1906, pp. 90-154, edited by Eugene Dietzgen & Joseph Dietzgen Jr.
Translated: by M. Beer & Th. Rothstein.
Transcribed: by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists Internet Archive.
Friends and Fellow-Citizens: The teachings of Social ism contain the material for a new religion which, unlike any other religion, appeals not merely to the heart and emotions, but at the same time to the brain, the organ of knowledge. From all other earthly knowledge socialism is distinguished by its religious form, by its fervid appeal to the heart and soul of man. Generally speaking the object of religion is to save the suffering soul from the gloom and misery of earthly life. This object it has thus far realized only in an unreal and fantastic manner, by referring us to an invisible God and to a Kingdom inhabited by ghosts. The gospel of to-day promises to save us from misery in a real and palpable way. God, that is the Good, the Beautiful and the Holy, is to be made man, and is to descend from heaven unto the earth, not as in the days of old in the flame of religion and in the spell of wonder, but in reason and reality. We want our saviour, our Word, to become flesh, and to be materialized not in one individual only. All of us desire, the people want to become sons of God.
Religion was until now a matter for the dispossessed. Now, however, the matter of the dispossessed is becoming religion, that is something which takes hold of the whole heart and soul of those who believe. The new faith, the faith of the proletariat, revolutionizes every thing, and transforms after the manner of science, the old faiths. In opposition to the olden times we say, Sun, stand thou still, and Earth, move and transform! In the old religion man served the gospel, in the new religion the gospel is to serve man. In order to emancipate humanity from religion not only vaguely but distinctly and really, it is necessary to overcome religion by analyzing and fully comprehending it. The new gospel asks for a thorough revision of the whole system of our thought. According to the old revelation the law was the primary, the supreme and the eternal, and man the secondary element.
According to the new revelation man is the primary, the supreme and the eternal, and the law the secondary, temporary and transitory element.
We do not live for the sake of the law, but, on the contrary, the law exists for our sake, to serve us, and to be modified according to our needs. The old gospel required of us patience and submissiveness ; the new gospel requires of us energy and activity. In the place of grace it puts conscious work. The old bible was named authority and faith; the new has for its title revolutionary science.
Faith and science, my dear friends, form the contradiction which separates the old from the new gospel. Those who have clearly grasped this distinction are incipient socialists, even if they have not penetrated to the political or social consequences springing from it. This distinction between faith and science contains the germ of revolutionary development. Both pursue the same end, the salvation of mankind, yet their ways are as poles asunder. Faith refers us to fancy and imagination, science to reason and reality.
Our opponents, the scribes and pharisees of the old gospel, stand and fall with the dogmas of their faith; they are past redemption. Those, however, who stand on the ground of science, submit their judgment to the crucible of facts ; they are the followers of the new gospel. The struggle between faith and science, the antagonism between the old and the new gospel, dates by no means from the days of socialism. It goes back to the ancient world, to the beginnings of scientific research, then it revives with the renaissance and grows more and more with the approach of the present era where it finds its embodiment in our leaders of scientific thought, though it reaches its full development only in the modern labor movement.
All great movements of the past were but the fore runners, the preliminaries of the general movement, of the coming great revolution whose birth we are witnessing. Greek civilization and Christianity, the Reformation, the French revolution of 1789, philosophy and modern science are mere instruments, but industry is the great architect, and socialism the lofty structure which the nations of our time are rearing. The history of the past has diligently collected the necessary materials, and now, friends, the time has come to dig up the soil and to lay the foundations.
Valuable as the labors of the past may be, they are but fanciful ornaments in comparison with the fundamental work the future has to carry out.
“Man is free, even were he born in chains.” This saying of Schiller needs correction. For man is born in chains and must struggle for freedom. The heaviest chains, the strongest fetters were put on him by Nature. Against her tyranny he struggles from the beginning of his days. Sustenance and apparel he must wrest from her. The whip of dire necessity in her hand she stands over him, and on her whims and frowns his existence depends. It was the tyranny of Nature which gave religion that predominant influence over the soul of man. Religion promised him relief from the heavy hand of Nature. How long and anxiously did Judaism wait for the Kingdom of the Messiah! “Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap ; which neither have storehouse nor barn ; and God feedeth them ; how much are ye better than the fowls?” Praying and fasting are the means recommended by Christianity against the inborn helplessness of man. Through the whole of the middle ages that advice was faithfully acted upon, until its futility became manifest. With the appearance of Luther religious thought changes. He proclaimed that Christ had performed for us in heavenly grace our religious salvation, thus relegating sacred exercises to Sundays chiefly and giving free the week-days for sober work. His challenge to the medieval Church heralds the era of industrial activity. Even though his followers afterwards misrepresented his teachings and though Luther himself left his work but half finished, it is nevertheless true that with the Reformation man starts out on a new earthly practice, the salvation through Labor without exactly giving up his theories about heaven. He works, accumulates wealth, and with the accumulated wealth he rises to the height of a new conception, to the gospel of social salvation.
Religion has since time immemorial been so much cared for and hallowed, that even those minds who have given up the belief in a personal God, in a supreme protector of mankind, still adhere to some sort of religion. Let us for the sake of those conservatives use the old word for the new thing. This is not only a concession made to prejudice in order the more easily to overcome it, but is also justified by the thing itself. Indeed, religions differ not more nor less from each other than all of them from the anti-religious social-democracy. All religions have this in common, that they strive for the salvation of suffering humanity, and to lead it up to the good, the beautiful, the righteous and the divine. Well, social-democracy is all the more the true religion as it strives for the very same end, not in a fantastic way, not by praying and fasting, wishing and sighing, but in a manner positive and active, real and true, by the social organization of manual and mental work.
Work is the name of the new Redeemer.
Christ made a great number of proselytes long before the church was established, so did in many centuries the new redeemer, Work, before he could in our present age think to ascend the throne and to take the sceptre into his hand. Now he is endowed with the attributes of the Godhead, with power and knowledge. He did not come to his glory in an immaculate and miraculous way. He is born in pains, and grown up in struggle and affliction and sorrow. Although it is he who civilizes man and cares for him, and comes with the promise to fully release him from the bonds of slavery, and actually shows him the longed-for new land from afar, yet the crown of thorns is on his brow and the cross of contempt on his shoulders.
However, let us drop parables and allegories, and do away with metaphorical language. The thing is much too great and too prominent to need mystical drapery. We deal here with the salvation of mankind in the truest sense of the word. If there be anything holy, here we stand before the holy of holiest. It is neither a fetish nor an ark of the covenant, neither a tabernacle nor a monstrance. It is the real, positive salvation of the whole civilized humanity. This salvation was neither invented nor revealed, it has grown out of the accumulated labor of history. It consists in the wealth of to day which arose glorious and dazzling in the light of science, out of the darkness of barbarism, out of the oppression, superstition and misery of the people, out of human flesh and blood, to save humanity. This wealth, in all its palpable reality, is the solid foundation of the hope of social-democracy.
The wealth of to-day does not consist in the superb mansions, inhabited by the privileged of society, nor does it consist in their costly apparel, or in the gold and the precious stones of their jewelry, or in the heaps of goods peeping through the show windows of our great cities. All that as well as the coin and bullion in the trunks and safes form but an appendix or, so to speak, the tassels and tufts, behind which the wealth is concealed – the rock on which our hope is built.
What authorizes the people to believe in the salvation from the long ages of torture – nay, not only to believe in, but to see it, and actively to strive for, is the fairy-like productive power, the prodigious fertility of human labor. In the secrets which we have wrung from Nature; in the magic formulas by which we force her to do our wishes and to yield her bounties almost without any painful work on our part; in the constantly increasing improvement of the methods of production – in this I say, consists the wealth which can accomplish what no redeemer ever could.
All exertion and struggle in human history, all aspirations and researches of science find their common aim in freedom of man, in the subjection of Nature under the sway of his mind.
What is freedom? Is it a phantom of which the German poet Schenkendorf sings, “Freedom as I understand it,” and of which, strictly speaking, only the name is known; after which the revolutionists of 1848 were hankering, like a boarding-school miss after some chivalrous knight? And verily, also those have but a philistine conception of its sublime character, who but see in it freedom from police interference or freedom of competition, of conscience, of speech, of organization and of public meetings. All that is but the fringe of freedom. Our Liberals and Progressives, who only fight for that tinsel, have long ago deprived the people of all reality of freedom which they consider as their exclusive privilege. What we want and what the Liberals largely possess in superabundance is freedom from the bonds of slave-labor, freedom from poverty, misery and sorrow, freedom from starvation and ignorance, freedom from the curse of being the beast of burden to the “higher classes” – this freedom for the masses of toiling humanity is the sacred aim which modern society could attain to by the infinite productivity of human labor.
Man, to be sure, is still dependent on Nature. Her tribulations are not as yet all overcome. Culture has yet a good deal to do; aye, its work is endless. But we have so far mastered the dragon, that we finally succeeded in forging the weapon with which it can be subdued; we know now the way to tame the beast into a useful domestic animal. From praying and fasting we have turned to thinking and working. The result of the change of method is plainly visible in the conquests of modern industry, whose soul is the productivity of our labor.
The hardships of mankind were perhaps until now inevitable, considering that there was no power to mitigate them. It certainly required thousands of years of development to bring forth that power. As long as the labor of the people was not fruitful enough to satisfy the needs of the masses, certain classes could usurp the privilege of governing the land. I am even inclined to go further and to admit that the task of developing our labor power to that degree of prodigious fertility which we see to-day, has necessitated a privileged governing class as well as the exploitation of the masses. I am thus ready to acquiesce patiently in the misery of the past, and bear it no grudge or malice. But all the more I am now justified in pressing forward the claims of social-democracy. The people are striving for real salvation, because the conditions are ready for it. Poverty, starvation and misery in the past were quite often the inevitable results of the deficiency of production. Now, or to be more accurate, since the second decade of the nineteenth century the case is quite the reverse : it is the superfluity of wealth, as manifested in the recurring periods of commercial and industrial depression, which interferes with production. However full the granaries and warehouses may be with goods of all kind, the people starve and freeze, because the possessing classes, satiated with wealth, do not require their labor power. The world is over-populated (hear! hear!), say our professors and politicians. Yes, the world is over-populated, because the means of sustenance can be so easily gotten. Human history had until now the task to organize production, to unfold labor power, to economize, and to produce wealth. To achieve that purpose, civilization used man ruthlessly as a tool. As far as that task can be fulfilled by means of oppression, it has been fulfilled. Civilization was until now the aim, and man the means of history. The time has now come to revert the case and to make man the end, and civilization the means. The prime necessity to an advance in civilization is freedom of the people to participate in consumption. Only occasionally and exceptionally there is suffering from a lack of supply, but generally and as a rule we witness misery caused by an abundance of goods in quest of consumers. Owing to free competition this abundance, called national wealth, has been the means to reduce prices and thus to stimulate advanced methods of production by the introduction of labor and cost-saving machinery. How ever, in consequence thereof those who were unable to compete went to the wall and the purchasing power of society decreased. So it came about that wealth, once the stimulator of progress, is now turning into a factor of historical stagnation.
Some of you, dear friends, may think that I see some thing which is not warranted by fact. However great wealth might be, it was by no means so abundant as to stifle production and to deprive the laborer of his employment.
To be sure, new factories are being built and the old ones prosper ; new railways, shipping lines and canals are being opened, and the land does not go out of cultivation. Yet all this is but the appearance, and not the reality of things, because truth is veiled by seeming contradictions. He who has eyes to see, sees the general tendency, despite the particular contradiction he sees the superfluity and the retrenchment of industry, despite the fact that the chimneys continue to pour forth smoke. What does not move as rhythmically as its nature requires, is lame. And who could deny that there is both the need and the power to expand production to many times its present dimensions? No matter how great or small the present improvements of agriculture or of machinery may be, on the whole it must be admitted that the growth of production is kept in check by the question of consumption. The salvation of humanity is involved in this question. It is so great and sublime, that all other problems which time may bear in its folds must wait in silence. The whole of old Europe is waiting with bated breath for the fulfilling of things which are coming.
The political events are but the surface, but a ripple of what is raging in the depths of history, at the bottom of social life. He who has eyes to see, sees how every rising tide of freedom has in the last decades been thrown back by an ebb twice as strong. In all leading countries of Europe every political step forward is followed by a forcible reaction. The tri-colored freedom alternates with Caesarism, Republics with Empires, lively enthusiasm with flabby apathy, each new era of liberalism is followed by a Bismarck. The English Parliament disestablishes the Irish Church and carries Crimes Acts which exceed in severity Prussian martial law. France, in the person of M. Ollivier, shows a strange attitude. Standing fast on one leg, she moves the other forward and backward, as if working the spinning-wheel of time. The wheel is diligently kept in motion, but no yarn comes out of it. Neither in Paris, nor in London, neither in Madrid nor in Naples, neither in Berlin nor in Vienna. O, ye short-sighted and narrow-minded, who cannot give up the fad of the moderate organic progress! Don’t you perceive that all your great liberal passions sink to the level of mere trifling, because the great question of social salvation is on the order of the day? Don t you perceive that struggle and destruction must precede peace and construction, and that chaotic accumulation of material is the necessary condition of systematic organization just as the calm precedes the tempest and the latter the general purification of the air? Neither the emancipation of nationalities nor that of women, neither the reorganization of school nor that of education in general, neither the reduction of standing armies nor that of taxation – neither of those demands can be satisfactorily taken in hand before the working class is freed from the fetters which keep them riveted to starvation, sorrow and misery. History stands still, be cause she gathers force for a great catastrophe.
Social-democracy believes in the conquering power of truth, hopes for the salvation from material and mental slavery, and deeply desires justice for all.
The practical and the successful, the pharisees and the scribes, the selfish and the hypocrites think us there fore hopelessly fantastic. They argue that there have always been lucky and unlucky, rich and poor, master and servants, and they illogically conclude that this state of things will endure forever and ever. They don’t conceive the possibility of salvation, because they don’t understand the people. The people are not a mass of pleasure-seeking loafers. They despise the finery of your pseudo-culture. They desire a systematic organization of our economic life which shall make impossible the gluttony of the few and the privations of the many, but which shall secure plenty of the necessaries for all. Our kingdom differs toto coelo from yours. And your kingdom, the social order of to-day, have you constructed it consciously, or is it not true that you have organized it instinctively, experimentally, in the course of centuries? Consider the frugal needs of our people and at the same time the modern fertility of labor, and ask yourselves if the instinct alone would not be sufficient to teach us how to supply adequately our needs with the help of the existing means of production? However, social-democracy does not rely on instinctive feeling only. In contradistinction to the present system of production which works without clear purpose and measure, social-democracy is based on a clear comprehension of the scope and the tendencies and the aims of modern economic life according to which it consciously attempts to reconstruct human society.
Conscious, systematic organisation of social labor is the redeemer of modern times.
Before we proceed with our thesis let us, dear friends, sum up in a few words the essence of our first sermon. In the social-democratic movement we have found a new form of religion, inasmuch as both are striving for the same end : the salvation of man from poverty with which he helplessly began his struggle for existence in the midst of a world of adversities. Even the most superstitious soul cannot claim for religion more than the success of spiritual salvation. The pagan gods have scarcely any share in that spiritual world, while the Tri-personal God of Christianity could only mitigate the misery of the people by making it a virtue. I shall not deny that this doctrine was beneficial for a time. As long as man had neither the capacity nor the means to throw off his cross, resignation was not only a divine balm, but also an effective discipline which trained him for the rigorous mental work civilization requires. Mind was cultivated by religion. But what purpose could such a culture serve if it didn’t enable us to cultivate the real world and to improve material conditions with the help of the mind? I am quite aware, my friends, that Christianity disowns this only earthly reason of its existence; I am quite aware, that Christianity claims its Kingdom not to be of this world, and that its only mission was the salvation of our immortal soul. We know, however, that we do not always achieve what we intend to achieve, and that we don’t really always do what we mean to do. We distinguish intentions from realizations. And the materialistic social-democrat has made it his special duty, to judge people not by their flashes of thought, but by their palpable actions. Indeed, the aim of religion can only be attained by material culture, by a cultivation of the material. Work we called the redeemer of humanity. Science and mechanical arts, mental and manual labor, are, like God-father and Son, two different forms of one and the same being. This truth I should like to call the cardinal dogma of the social-democratic church, if social-democracy could be called a church, and reasonable knowledge a dogma. Science has been an idle speculation as long as it didn’t reach the truth that thinking, perceiving and learning required external objects and sense-impressions. The combination of the activity of the brains and the senses distinguishes natural science from all ancient speculative sciences. The science of the ancients was largely speculation, that is, they believed it possible to evolve truth by mental activity alone, without the help of external objects and experience. But the result thus obtained was no science. No wonder, that the contents of many a library of folio-volumes with their wooden and pigskin bindings have now chiefly an antiquarian value. On the other hand, the craftsmen of the past did not sever manual from mental labor, and though their hand work has largely been consumed or damaged, yet the science of those practical investigators has been carefully guarded by tradition and handed down, nearly unimpaired, from generation to generation. There are among us a good many people who, instead of regarding science as a handmaid to civilization, idolize and worship it with boundless and servile admiration as something preternatural. They are like the barbarians who turned the natural and social law into a divinity and thus deprived them selves of the power to control that law and to use it for the benefit of mankind. It is incumbent upon social-democracy to destroy both the religious and the scientific superstition. Man shall not look up to science, but shall draw it down to earthly purposes. The mental shall be the tool of manual labor. With this we by no means disparage the just claims of science. The manifest futility of mere speculative brooding, the demonstrated barrenness of pure reason, may be a lesson for the learned profession, that there can be no science without the action of our senses upon material objects. Conversely, let the craftsmen learn from the wonderful results of modern industry that labor needs the co-operation of science.
The mutual permeation going on for centuries of those two forms of activity helped humanity to reach that point where the foundation-stone to the temple of social-democracy can be laid. It consists in the power of our material production, in the productivity of modern industry. But let us take care not to think in this connection of mental power only! The labor, which has been accumulated in the course of ages, does not consist of mental or scientific achievements only, but to a much higher degree in the material wealth existing around us, insofar as it constitutes a necessary instrument of modern labor. Although this instrument or wealth is at present under the control of private individuals, yet the social-democrat must learn to conceive that it could not be the creation of private efforts. All our material wealth as well as our scientific and literary achievements can only be due to the collective work of many and various generations, countries and races, and is therefore, despite the private control under which it is at present, the collective product of all.
Great inventions and discoveries, which are bound up with certain names, are but nominally the property of those famous individuals. They are in fact, like the material achievements, the result of collective labor, the product of society. And it is but a survival of the barbarian past to regard great historic names not only as brilliant leaders, but also as demigods, though such opinions are still prevalent among many learned as well as ignorant men. To be sure, had not Columbus made use of the accumulated means, ideas and aspirations to undertake the discovery of America, some other sailor would have done it; the talent and courage requisite for such a voyage are by no means rare among sailors generally.
Or as Thomas Buckle says of James Watt, the inventor of the steam-engine: “He would have surely not achieved what he has, without his predecessors.” This may be applied to all men who distinguished themselves and achieved great successes as well as to common people.
It is, dear friends, the supreme duty of science to reduce the extraordinary, i.e., which appears to the general superstition as extraordinary, to the level of the ordinary, the usual, the natural or normal. The saints and the sanctuaries, the religious and the worldly ones, must disappear in order that the only eternal and true sanctuary : humanity or mankind, may live. To make brotherhood a reality ; to make it impossible to despise any one, it is necessary to cease to humbly look up to any one. The social-democrat should not stare at the chief of a republic as the peasant does at the priest; he should not regard him as a biped God, as the chosen supreme master. We are all born chiefs, while the elected chief is simply the temporary administrator of the ordinary state of affairs, the business manager the like of whom there are hundreds among the people. The tribe of David should intermingle with the tribe of Melchizedek and form one tribe of citizens with equal rights.
Let us now return to the doctrine of our social-democratic church, the foundation-stone of which is the accumulated material and mental wealth, and which teaches us to believe that that heavy stone had been hewn and brought to light neither entirely without nor altogether by the effort of certain select individuals and noble families, but by the exceedingly hard labor, material and mental, of the whole society. Only knaves and fools call this a system of crude levelling-up. Those, however, who have studied our church-fathers know that our social hierarchy, the difference between the great and the small, the virtuous and the wicked, the noble and the common, the learned and the untaught, have only been established in order to endow the few with privileges and to keep the masses in servitude. No, fellow-citizens! the equality of social-democracy is by no means a fantastic equality. It does not exclude diversity. Nature has given us the same desire to satisfy our hunger, to clothe our body and to develop our capacities. Men have always and everywhere the same imperious instinct of self-preservation and the same desire to live in enjoyable activity, without misery or servitude. The equality in the desire does not interfere with the natural diversity, with the peculiar talents and proclivities given to each of us. Just as in nature as a matter of fact equality and diversity intermingle and form one united whole, so will the social order of the future make all men equal in rank and value, by giving them the equal right to the enjoyment of their individual life, without obliterating the diversity which requires of every one to act according to his gifts. A new era has dawned upon mankind. It bids us approach its message in the light of new ideas and a new understanding.
The first and foremost thing in this respect is to revise our present notion of the supreme being and our idea of perfection. Until now we have been taught to regard and to revere the sublime, the supreme, the divine and the perfect as a single thing or being. Here the barbarians found it in a tree, there in a golden calf, then in the thunder and lightning as the fierce justice, finally the Christians deified the spirit of love. Why was the spirit of love so imperfect? Because he lacked the antithesis, the flesh and bone. We shall give him reality when we search for the perfect, the great and sublime not in one single thing, nor in one single quality, nor in one particular personality, but in the communion and intimate connection of all men and things. Various peoples and various ages idolized the most diverse things as the supreme perfection. Here it was bodily strength and martial prowess, there it was Samaritan pity and spiritual power. But none of these single things has stood the test of time. The deified qualities have proved to be as transient as the gods themselves, and as the peoples who have for a long time been looking for the true God, until the truth has forced itself to the front that men as well as things are all equally sublime, equally perfect and divine. I hear already the shrill voice of the heretics, i.e., of the adversaries of our gospel, charging us with iniquitous blasphemy. Our respectable citizens cannot perceive a state of things without masters and servants, without nobles and commoners, without virtuous and wicked. They think it quite strange to ascribe the same value to the crooked as to the straight, to the donkey as to the miller. Verily, I tell you, the more reasonable the miller the more will he value his donkey. Both of them are in this point equal, that they serve each other, and that either of them is, in the right time and the right place, a valuable part of a united whole. Only that and no more is the meaning of the social-democratic doctrine of equality. The privileged divinity of the individual must be abolished if the general deviltry should once for all be done away with. Nothing shall be rejected as impure, everything shall be worthy of a place in the tabernacle, that it may be able, in its time and station, to serve for the best of all. Humanity, knowing how to live in mutual service and to supplement one another with the things of this world, is the bodily representation of the supreme being and of divine perfection.
The social-democratic equality, my friends, is there fore something quite different from the insipid political equality to which the liberal parties want to treat the people. They want political equality, that we may help them to establish a state of things in which they could use us unreservedly for the preservation and augmentation of their wealth, while the aim and end of our equality is to restore the wealth to those who in the course of centuries created it by hard, ceaseless toil, namely, to the people. The wealth of to-day is the instrument of future labor. In the present it serves private ends, in the future it shall serve social ends. The restoration of that instrument to the people shall not take the form of a division. It shall not be divided up in the manner which obtains to-day, where some get more than their due, while some get nothing at all and are consequently forced into the servitude of the rich ; nor shall it be divided up in equal but petty shares so that each individual is to start out on his own hook on a life of drudgery, or is to run the risk of being cheated out of his heritage by the jugglery of the cunning. No, that instrument shall not be subjected to any partition, but it shall be handled with organized skill by co-operative labor; the product only shall be divided and consumed. That is the communism of social-democracy.
While Nature ruled with the overpowering force of fate or of a god, and cowed humanity into poverty, it might have been useful to entrust certain individuals or certain classes with the power of government that they might serve as guides for the people. The ancient, the feudal and to-day’s bourgeois order of slavery are progressive steps to the organization of labor. Now, how ever, the time is approaching which calls upon us to take a much farther step than the liberal and democratic parties are dreaming of. By the productivity of labor the people have arrived at the point where they want that all class-domination shall cease. They feel themselves competent to continue the economic development without the help of privileged leaders. The liberty, with which the bourgeoisie goads the people into a struggle against the landed interests or against bureaucracy; the equality and fraternity, which priestcraft promises us with the purpose of binding us to it with ropes of superstition, turns into the real liberty, equality and fraternity of social-democracy.
If religion consists in the belief in supernatural beings and forces, in the belief in gods and spirits, then social-democracy is without religion. In its place we put the consciousness of the insufficiency of the individual, who needs therefore to his completion and perfection the co-operation of the whole, and consequently acknowledges his submission to the whole. Civilized human society is the supreme being in which we believe; on its transformation to socialism we build our hope. Such a humanity will make love a reality, of which the religious enthusiasts have only been dreaming. The deluded and the obdurate, who cannot believe in the social-democratic development of society, may feel the necessity of transferring their hope from this earth to a Hereafter. Not so the social-democrat. In order to really participate in the consolation which the believer finds in the idea of a heavenly father who protects and defends his children, we are striving for a society which shall assist the help less individual in all his needs. We call upon society – and by virtue of its accumulated wealth we are entitled to call upon society – that it shall vouchsafe to each of its members not only work, but also daily bread, and that it shall feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, in short, it shall carry out the work of love and mercy. We appeal to society, not only to call itself human but to be human. In the place of religion, social-democracy puts humanity, which shall no more rest on the basis of an ethical commandment, but on the recognition that its savior can only be found in co-operative, brotherly work: in economic communism. The original sin, from which mankind has been suffering, is selfishness. Moses and the prophets, all religious founders and legislators together have been unable to extirpate it. “The sin dwelleth in the flesh as the nail in the wall.” No preaching or teaching and commanding could eradicate it, for the whole constitution of our present society hinges upon that nail. Bourgeois society rests on the selfish distinction of mine and thine, rests on social war, on competition, on the cunning devices of getting the best of each other.
In conclusion let me point out the moral : it demands – and its whole being depends on this demand – that we reconcile the antithesis between love and selfishness; that we constitute our society on this reconciliation; that men shall join hands and with united strength and labor force Nature to yield us our daily bread in plenty.
Before we proceed to deal with the meaning of the moral, drawn from our previous remarks, I should like to call your attention to the essential characteristics, to the great and general outlines of religion. I shall not speak of any special denomination : neither of the Christian, Jewish, Mohammedan or pagan beliefs, but of idolatry in general.
We have found that religion and social-democracy have this in common, that they both strive for salvation. Yet, social-democracy is in this respect more advanced that it does not look for salvation in the realm of spirit, but in the world of material realities, taking human spirit only as its guide. The need for salvation, the misery of the primitive man is the psychological germ out of which religion evolved. This perplexity and helplessness in the midst of a world of adversities causes man to look for omnipotence and perfection in some other quarters, and suggested to him the worship of animals, stars, trees, lightning, winds, certain heroic personalities, etc. But eventually in the long run experience inevitably taught him that those things are themselves powerless. Man took a step further and looked for the supreme being no more in near-by and tangible things, but in a spirit reigning in the clouds. Removed from experience as the new godhead was, it became more difficult to get some reliable information about it. Yet modern science, which succeeded in fathoming many a mystery, penetrated also to the bottom of the secret of religion.
The “wealthy and cultured” whose care for science extends but so far as it helps them to accumulate treasure and to preserve their privileges, are in fact the mean materialists to whom nothing is of more serious concern than the selfish cultivation of the body. It is these people who are fain to declare that we must not discuss religion, as nothing could be known about it. Against all such assertions I may assure you, friends, that religion, despite its obscurity and lofty mysteriousness, did not escape the piercing eye of science, which penetrated into its most remote and darkest corners. Just as we know as a certainty that two and two equals four, or that there are no two mountains without a valley, on earth or in heaven or anywhere else, so do we know what and who religion and God are, where they begin and end, where they come from and how they dissolve.
The ruling classes and their conscious or unconscious flunkeys have an interest to contend against the austerity of religion, as it interferes with their worldly enjoyments. For those who really believe and trust in an eternal treasure which is eaten neither by rust nor by moths, lose their appetite for the evanescent joys of the world. Indeed, religious as well as political liberalism is closely connected with property and with the mode of business prevailing to-day. The aristocratic families of the past were the friends and followers of the monks, for both had their kitchen and cellar supplied by socage and tithes. The great houses of the present, which “earn” their sumptuous living by profit-making off the labor of others, and this on so liberal, i.e., plentiful, a scale, are more than alienated from the orthodox preacher of Christian discipline and sobriety; their attitude towards him is full of antipathy. Yet it would be a mistake to assume that liberalism is serious in its unbelief. They can’t be serious. Their privileged social position condemns the “wealthy and cultured” to that nauseous lukewarmness, to that indifferentism which is neither cold nor warm. Their religious freemasonry, their protests against superstition – by the way, all belief is superstition – cannot be serious, for the religious discipline is one of the mainstays of class-rule. Though they have lost all belief in God they never tire of reminding us of his commandments: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s ... Be subject to principalities and powers, obey magistrates ... Pray and work ... Bear the cross in all humility and patience ...” While they are fiercely striving to climb up the ladder of might and wealth they actually delude us, and perhaps also themselves, into believing that they trust in God, who is supposed to humble the proud and to exalt the humble. The liberal bunglers are easily to be recognized as religious hypocrites. The great captains of industry, with their liveried and titled flunkeys as professors, justices, lawyers, etc., are passionately devoted to freedom of trade and competition as well as to freedom of religion. Every man shall be free to believe as his conscience dictates. But woe to those who try to live up to such maxims and free themselves of all religion! You may belong to a nonconformist congregation or to an undenominational school. But to have no religion at all, or to belong to a secular school – why, that’s positively disgraceful! That’s past all bearing ! Such things must be put a stop to! If the people do no more believe in anything, who will sanctify our property and supply the dear fatherland with food for guns or cannon?
The small craftsman who feels and sees that the industrial revolution is undoing him, does not know and does not want to know of the inventions and discoveries of science. This is quite the case with our “wealthy and cultured” in matters of religion. They are used to say: If there is no positive proof for the truths of religion, there is still less any proof against religion. Because their interests are endangered by such knowledge, they refuse to admit that more than half a century ago Feuerbach particularly had brought the conclusive and irrefutable proof that all religion is simply a substitute for human ignorance.
The human race has this peculiar distinction, that at different times and places it values different things and qualities as the highest beyond all measure; – that, unlike the apes which but imitate what was shown them, humanity revolutionizes its highest standards, in short, it makes history. Of course, not that history as taught in our schools, which is simply a miserable index of the births and deaths of princes; an enumeration of wars, battles and treaties, while its real import consists in the great and solemn evidence that mankind, its generations and peoples, constitutes a living and continually developing organism, each part of which serves the whole. The aim or postulate of this development is to subdue all existing matter and forces to human needs, to cultivate nature, and to bring system into the world with the help of our mind. This process is going on slowly, by fits and starts. Those who by the study of nature and by the insight into its boundless possibilities attained to a wise humility, recognize without hesitation that the historic progress, though its aim is to make human consciousness the lord of the world, is still far from being a matter of consciousness. It is much more the instinct, the nature of matter, which impels its continual development, through the various geological periods to the formation of life, which began with the most primitive life-cells and developed to higher forms with plants and animals by variation and natural selection, until its highest product, man gifted with reason, was brought forth. The end and aim of the evolutionary process is to comprehend the manifold phenomena of nature and history in order to enable man to consider and to use the human race, its ethnological and political organizations and all existing mental and material energies as an organic whole. In the course of his development man passionately idolized anything that happened to range high in his estimation, be it an animal, a plant, a star, a human being or a law. God – the essence of religion – appears thus as a changeable and temporary, and not as a permanent and eternal, character. The divine has changed so often that its evanescence became manifest to the scientific mind. Science has therefore formulated the proposition : That which religion values beyond measure is in historic reality but temporarily and locally valuable. Religious people are wont to assert that all races, savage or civilized, have some sort of religion and believe in God. From which they infer that religion is inherent in man and needs, therefore, no further demonstration. That assertion is, however, only in so far true as people without experience are credulous, and all the more so, the less experience and culture they possess. Nowadays it is but peasants and women that are the true believers. Those who have eyes to see perceive that there is not one, but many religions, and not one God, but many Gods. As man attains to the understanding of the world only by degrees, he idolizes many things, to-day the sun, to-morrow the moon, one time the dog, as the Persians, at another time the cat, as the Egyptians, until he finally gains the social-democratic truth that nothing and every thing is divine, nothing and everything does invaluable services. What the heathen valued in their gods, in Bacchus – wine, in Venus – love, etc.; what the Israelites valued in Jahve – the punishing, reproving and law-making; what the Christians worship in their God – the incarnation, suffering and dying for others, boundless love and mercy, contempt for worldly matters, abstemiousness, celibacy, etc. – all this, my friends, is to be valued temporarily and locally, but never to be idolized. Not the objects of religion are reprehensible, but the essence of religion, which is boundless and inordinate in its veneration.
The essence of religion consists in this, that certain phenomena of nature and history, which, according to time and circumstances, acquired an unusual importance, have been personified and put on so high a pinnacle that they appear to be independent of time and space.
The religious truth is but a natural truth standing on its head. Not God created man, but always and everywhere man created God in his own image. If some out-of-the-way people, possessed of wisdom, happen to get the sacred books of our churches, they will learn nothing about God and heaven, but a good deal about the civilization of men who wrote and esteemed those things. How near our time is to giving up all religion, is evident from the vague and confused ideas now circulating about God and his attributes. While man comes to the knowledge of the existence of all other things because he had known before how and what they are, he wants to be convinced of the existence of God before knowing anything in particular about his nature, whether he is of human or inhuman form, small or large, black- or blue-eyed, male or female. The theologians, being themselves in the dark, label such questions materialistic and improper. But the more advanced thinkers know already that the very few things their colleagues assume to know about God when they qualify him as just, good, wise, almighty, etc. -that all those qualities are not religious, but profane and earthly qualities, which we may find here on earth without taking the trouble of going up to heaven. Such qualifications are called by the scholars “anthropomorphistic,” that is, where man over-estimates justice, he describes a just God, and where he has a liking for human flesh, he treats his God therewith. The advanced theologians are well aware of that and decline to give any description of their objects of worship. But is it not senseless to assert the existence of something and at the same time to confess complete ignorance of how, where and what its nature is? The more the idea of God recedes into the past the more palpable it is; in olden times man knew everything about his God; the more modern the form of religion has become, the more confused and hazy are our religious ideas. The truth is that the historic development of religion tends to its gradual dissolution.
A little while ago I characterized religion as the substitute of human ignorance, that is, it fills up the gaps of knowledge. Where the gaps are wide, there the scope of religion is wide. The whole life of barbarian tribes, their work and their rest, their social customs and laws are under the strict control of God. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob cares about the most insignificant details; he supervises the cleanliness of his people; he prescribes how to hitch their animals to the carriage, in short, there is nothing left to a true Israelite which is not regulated by divine command. The same may be said of all Asiatic religions. On the other hand, the civilized nations of to-day leave to God those things only whose laws have not yet been discovered, as the making of the weather, the healing of malignant diseases, etc. To an enlightened liberal the blessed name of the Lord is in reality no more than the A, the beginning of the alphabet of his conception of the world. Once he passes beyond the beginning, he allows the world to take its natural course. To this un-Christian Christian everything in the world is natural except the beginning, which is unnatural and divine. It is this consideration which stands in the way of his giving up the belief in the existence of God, which has also the advantage of keeping the lower orders, the “illiterate,” in check. The only link which connects this sham-religion of the Progressive-Liberal with the Catechism is the so-called “moral world.” But inasmuch as he begins dimly to perceive that morality, too, has a worldly basis, his association of ideas becomes dim and shadowy. As soon as we are conscious of the fact that the ethical had not its roots in the divine will, but, on the contrary, that which, for social reasons, had become ethical receives subsequently divine sanction; – as soon as we recognize that ethics was antecedent to the “ Eternal,” the Church loses the ground from under its feet. If we compare the wide scope of religious life of the pagan past, when the trees and bushes, the hills and waters teemed with gods and goddesses; – if we compare the intense faith of early Christianity with its manifold saints and miracles; – if we compare all that with the position of to-day, when religion is pushed into the background by so many other considerations, then, I think, no impartial observer will be able to disagree with our proposition, that the progress or development of religion consists in its gradual dissolution. No doubt, this is the usual course of things in the world. With the first day of his life the new-born begins his pilgrimage towards the grave. And stronger words than those I could not conscientiously utter against religion. It is not an eternal or heavenly affair, but an earthly and temporal one.
The last and strongest religious argument, brought forward by rather unprejudiced minds, is the undeniable fitness of things in nature or in the universe. Who could deny the wonderful order of the universe, its harmony, organization and system? Apart from the numberless illustrations usually brought in favor of that argument, apart from the green, blue and speckled cuckoo’s eggs, which, according to color and volume, always fit in with the bird’s eggs to which they are added, we find in every step the proofs of a universal intelligence which uses everything that is living and existing as a part, as a suitable organic part of the whole. To recognize the evolution or the gradual organization, not only of nature but also of human society, is the special task of social-democrats. Their superior understanding consists just in this, that they regard all phenomena of nature and human history as being parts of the whole that are involved in the process of evolution, and even such things as religion, morality and property, which are usually looked upon as constant and eternal ; there is no sacred exception to this rule. And how could they fail to recognize that there is in this whole something of a higher life to which the individual parts are subordinated? But when recognizing this, there is no necessity of going back to religion and mysticism. Experience has so much sharpened our wits that we spotted the rocks on which human reason, in its efforts to get at the truth, has hitherto often suffered shipwreck. The learned marked them with the ponderous name : anthropomorphism. It is the manner of the unsophisticated, which is so difficult to get rid of, to measure and to interpret the external world by the gauge of their own individual life. Because man pursues his aims deliberately and consciously he substitutes a being in his own image, gifted with deliberative power and consciousness, as the architect of the system of nature. And even among intelligent people whose sense of criticism is so far developed as to shake all belief in a personal God, we find that they cannot do away with all philosophic mysticism; they take refuge either in a philosophy of the unconscious, which attributes will and conception to unconscious things, or to spiritualism and theosophy.
It cannot however be denied that there is in dead matter a living impulse towards a higher form of organization, and that, consequently, the material world is not dead, but living. Yet, it is necessary to keep in mind that we can only speak of its will and purpose in a relative and comparative sense. For the manifestation of the universal intelligence is but gradual. The higher the organization of matter the clearer the manifestation of the intelligence. We see it in the animal instinct in a limited degree of clearness and it attains to a pure expression in the cerebral function of man, i.e., in our consciousness. To attribute purpose, will and conception to low-organized matter is therefore as wrong as to call twilight day because of the limited degree of light the former possesses. And if I ventured a little while ago to make use of those terms it was but with the intention to discredit them and to show their relative meaning. To be sure, there is reason in the natural things. But for this it was possible for the homo sapiens to appear without divine assistance on the stage of history. Those who recognize reason, the source of all system and of all fitness of things, as a product of nature, cannot fail to admit the suitability inherent in nature. Yet, the spirit of man is the only spirit. This name cannot be given to the reason which we find in the orderly revolutions of the solar systems, or in the cuckoo’s eggs, or in the construction of the bee’s cell, or in the working of the ants, or in the head of apes, but solely to its highest manifestation, to the consciousness, to the cerebral function of man.
Our spirit is the highest spiritual being. But, my pious friends, that is, my attentive friends, we must not put it on the high pinnacle of a religious godhead. High and low means in our materialistic philosophy as much as more or less organized. The less autonomous the parts of a thing are, the more they function as organs, the more interdependent and closely connected they are, the more numerous and varied their natural communications and services, the higher is the thing in the hierarchy of nature. Our consciousness is the universal center, the universal means of communication. But it does not exist by itself, isolated in aristocratic aloofness like our Lord God, but it is in its good democratic way only a point of contact, a connection with all other things. Even before natural science mastered the art of differentiation and unification, the logic or the science of mind had discovered that there is but one species, namely, worldly things, while everything else is but a variety. The conscious and unconscious, the plants and animals, the good and bad, all diversity, all antagonisms of the world must be considered as diverse forms of one and the same being, which gradually merge into each other, carrying on a perpetual struggle for existence, and renewing and perfecting themselves through natural selection. Out of chaos arose cosmos, which gradually evolved reason-gifted man, whose pleasant duty it is to further the progress of our world, to remove its imperfections. His task can be best effected by studying and organizing its forces. Indeed, man has always been working at his task, but until now in an unconscious manner: when his intellectual and civilizing efforts had sufficiently accumulated to form a great generalization and a new social stage he rested for a time; those were epoch-making instances which found their visible expression in a new religious conception: the animal-worship of oriental nations, the Law of Israel, the Humanity of Christ, etc. But where man becomes conscious of his task, where he recognizes in himself the absolute organizer, there the place of the religious conception is taken by the anti-religious social-democracy.
It is in reality a priestly nuisance to address my comrades from the height of the pulpit. Pulpit, Christianity and religion have often been made to serve so many crooked purposes that it is very unpleasant for an upright man to come in close touch with them. Yet, we must approach them closely in order to do away with those things altogether. If you want to put a brawler out of the temple you must first embrace him, -that’s one of the sensible contradictions of life.
It is not an unusual phenomenon in history to see how one thing is being transformed into another thing with the name remaining the same. To the inexperienced the changed new thing is easily represented as the familiar old one. Such is the case with pulpit, Christianity and religion. This is a conservative trick which causes much confusion in the minds of the people. Even among our comrades there are some who are thus caught. They say: Christ was the first socialist. Yet, Socialism and Christianity differ from each other as the day does from the night. To be sure, there are points of resemblance between them. But show me the thing to which no analogy could be found! What does totally differ? Day and night have this in common, that they are both portions of time. The devil and the archangel are both of the same nature, though one be black- and the other white-skinned, inasmuch as both of them do claim some kind of a skin. It is the fundamental faculty of our mind to bring all diversity under one general heading. Though Christianity and Socialism may have some points in common, it is none the less true that whoever mistakes Christ for a socialist is surely a dangerous muddlehead. In fact, our knowledge is one-sided when based only on what phenomena have in common. We must look also for their differentiation. Not what the Socialist has in common with the Christian, but what distinguishes and differentiates him from the Christian shall be the subject of our consideration.
Christianity was recently qualified as the religion of servility. This seems to me a very apt qualification.
Indeed, all religion is servile, but Christianity is the most servile of the servile. Let us take the next best Christian saying we meet with on the road. On my way there stands a cross with inscription: “Mercy, gracious Jesus! Holy Maria, pray for us.” Here we have the inordinate humility of Christianity in all its wretchedness. For those who build all their hope on mercy are wretched creatures, indeed. Those who start out in life with the belief in an Almighty God, and prostrate themselves before the destinies and forces of nature, and in their piteous feeling of impotency moan for mercy, are anything but efficient members of modern society. When we see that modern Christians act differently, that they brave the storm and courageously face danger, that they actively strive to remove calamity, it is only because of their defection from Christianity. Though they continue to keep their name, their song-books and their anxieties, they are in their doings and dealings perfect anti-Christs. We non-religious social-democrats must be fully conscious of this position. We want to be consciously and deliberately, in theory and practice, the energetic opponents of that sheepish and godly humility.
Rooted in the flesh like an old Adam is that disastrous human disposition to perpetuate a thing which was only meant to serve certain conditions. Inertia and selfishness are joined together to hush up, to deny or to conciliate the contradiction between Christian contempt of worldly life and the joyful, strenuous activity which distinguishes the present generation. Christianity wants resignation, while modern life wants us to work with all our might for the satisfaction of our material needs. Confidence in God is the foremost Christian virtue, while self-confidence, the exact opposite, is necessary to achieve success. Those who dare to put into the mouth of Christianity the maxim: “Trust in God, but thou shalt not hide thy talents,” by which they mean to convey that work was not an un-Christian thing, but, on the contrary, a Christian command, are preposterous sophists. Work in the Christian sense differs wholly from modern and real work. The Christian works for Heaven, crucifies his flesh and subdues his passion. And when he works for his daily bread, then it must only be for such an upkeep as to prolong his tribulations in this valley of tears in order to be worthy of true eternal life. “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal” (St. John, 12, 25) . Heavenly eternity is the aim of the Christian; the earthly world is the aim of sensible men.
Herr Daniel Schenkel, D.D., of Heidelberg, is indignant at the assertion that the essence of Christianity is the negation of this world. “Is it true,” he exclaims, “that Christianity does not regard this world as a worthy place, nay, not even as a possible place for religion – this world of which the Gospel says: So did God love His world that He sent His only begotten Son unto it. Did the primitive Christians renounce the world? Didn’t they rather expect Christ to appear again on earth and to substitute a new order of things for the old, rotten one?” Thus speaks a sophistical reasoner who cares very little for consistent reasoning, but a good deal for a compromise between his half-hearted rationalism and the Christian religion. Or does he feel the need of deluding others, if not himself, too? Does he not know that Christianity has two worlds like the Prussians, one that is white and the other black? The beautiful world of reality the Christian has painted black. Its glories are but temptations of the devil; its labor a curse; its love a sinful lust; the flesh a weariness to the spirit; the body a wretched carcass. As the enchanted prince dwells in a wild beast so does the white world of Christian imagination live in this black reality. To save us from this world God has sent His Son, who leads us into the heavenly world of Christianity. It consists of spiritual matter, which is just as possible as iron wood-blocks. Its men and women are sexless; its bodies have no gravity; its work is painless. To be sure, the primitive Christians did have the desire to renounce the world. They expected the reappearance of Jesus at any moment; they expected the destruction of the world and the crack of doom. “My kingdom is not of this world.”
However, the fantastic salvation of Christianity, which aims at removing the toils of the world, not by energetic work, but by believing and trusting, could not possibly suppress forever the sensible desire for the enjoyment of material life. The heretics, reformers, Protestants, old-Catholics, Unitarians and high critics have all of them contributed to the victory of the blackened and libelled truth over the whitewashed lie of religious imagination. Insofar we Socialists are at one with the Progressives. But we protest against this cowardice in clinging to the old name and in trying to pass off their defection from faith for a restoration of true Christianity. It is necessary to discredit the name in order to do away with the thing itself.
The religion of the Capitalists is as equivocal and contradictory as their political economy, liberty, equality and fraternity. The farce of the renunciation of the world, played by the fat monk, is being continued by the well-fed bourgeois. And the most ludicrous part of it is that the Progressive falls a long way behind the monk, who at least was conscious of the austere character of religion. The lukewarm and insipid Christianity of the modern humbugs claims to be the only genuine article. The old leaders of Christianity, the Saints of the Calendar, manifested a real contempt for the world and its pleasures; they loved the life of a hermit, wore the hair shirt, mortified their body and fed themselves on roots and herbs. Their life bore evidence of their doctrine: “God is a spirit.” Our modern crusaders turn to another page where it is written: “He was made flesh and dwelled among us.” No doubt, the germ of equivocation and senseless contradiction lay from the beginning in the Christian doctrines. The apostles and church fathers made sometimes concessions to the public. They taught how to drive out lust by marriage, and Satan by Beelzebub. From some passages it might appear that praying and fasting were the highest Christian duties, while from other passages the opposite conclusion might be drawn, that the Lord finds no pleasure in sacrifice. Christianity, not being above nature, cannot dispense with the joy of life altogether, and must end by compromising and trimming. The clear-sighted social-democrat will not be detained by the trees from recognizing the forest. The essence of Christianity is abstemiousness in this world and sweet peas in Heaven.
A doctrine which swayed nations and continents for centuries has surely its historic significance. But this granted, we must reject its claim to eternal domination. The good which Christianity contains, as, for instance, mortifying the flesh as a means against non-married lust, or brotherhood of man against national jealousies, is readily accepted by social-democracy. We condemn all jingoism which, however, the Christian church as a rule fosters. Yet we cannot regard that truth as divine and holy.
With that difference between religious and secular truth we arrive at the point which essentially distinguishes the Socialist from the Christian. To its elucidation I should like to ask you, my friends, to give me your special attention for a while.
Truth is truth, undoubtedly! But in its religious form it is one-sided, insensate and intolerant. Take for instance the principle of brotherhood of man. It is an eternal truth, i.e., it is a human need that men shall live together. Sociability is in their nature, they must love one another; and where they fail to recognize it they suffer in their own well-being and happiness. Where, however, the religious believer has taken up that principle, where the Christian commands: Love thy neighbor as thyself, there he goes at it with such a fierceness that he knocks all rime and reason out of it. When he be smitten on the right cheek he is to offer the left one, too. When he preaches love he excludes hatred. On the other hand, Socialism does not only preach love of humanity, but is based on it. The anti-religious, reasonable love of humanity knows how to limit itself; it does not over shoot the mark or exclude its antithesis: the hatred, but includes it as a holy because necessary means for temporary use. We, too, desire to love the enemy and to do good to him who hates us but not ere we have effected his unconditional surrender. Meanwhile we sing with Herwegh
Die Liebe kann erösen nicht,
Die Liebe nicht erretten,
Halt du, O Hass, dein jüngst Gericht,
Brich du, O Hass, die Ketten.
Bis unsre Hand in Asche stiebt,
Soll sie vom Schwert nicht lassen,
Wir haben lang genug geliebt
Und wollen endlich hassen.
(Love cannot save,
Love cannot redeem,
Arise thou, O Hate, and break our chains.
Until our hand withers
We shall not relinquish the sword,
We’ve loved long enough,
Let us now hate.)
The question we are dealing with concerns the difference between religious and profane truth. That the Jew shall not run about unwashed, Moses prescribed cleanliness as a law. Cleanliness is a necessary requirement; it is a truism. In its religious form however it is of a solemn immobility, fixed to time, place and number; it prescribes when, in what manner and how often one must wash. The religious truth is a binding prescription; secular science and the free use of water cleanses more thoroughly than that prescription. In science the atom is as worthy an object as the starry sky. There is no fixed gulf in science between worthy and unworthy objects, and none in scientific ethics between good and evil. All things and qualities are useful and suitable; clean and unclean, love and hate, enjoyment and renunciation – all is relative, more or less, according to time and conditions. Scientific freedom, subordinating all things and qualities to human ends, is thoroughly anti-religious. Religious truth consists just in this, that it lifts natural qualities above nature, that it separates them from the living stream of human progress and confines them in a stagnant pool.
In qualifying the common and profane truth as “scientific,” I should like to remind you, friends and comrades, that the scientific truth is called profane and common. It is necessary to bear that in mind, seeing that a scientific priesthood has arisen which is aiding and abetting religious priestcraft. To destroy palpable superstition would be an easy matter if dualistic confusion were not on the lookout for the gaps of science in order to lay there its eggs. Such gaps are to be found especially in the field concerning epistemology, the theory of the method of cognition. As the Laplander or Firelander is terrorized by mighty natural phenomena, so is the professor by the wondrous working of the human mind. Enlightened freethinkers, who easily dispense with Christianity and religion in general, are still caught in the snares and pitfalls of superstition as long as they don’t clearly distinguish between religious and profane truth, and as long as they are not clear about the organ of truth or the faculty of knowledge. Having materialized everything spiritual, there remained nothing for the professors but to spiritualize their own profession, science. They assume academic knowledge to be of a different stuff from, say, the knowledge of the peasant, of the dyer or of the smith. Scientific agriculture is, however, only insofar ahead of usual farming that its rules or its knowledge of the so-called natural laws are generalizations of a more comprehensive kind. They but differ from each other in degree and not in essence, as for instance a quart of legumes from a quart of peas. There must be no groping in the dark about the insipid difference between noble science and common understanding, if we want to overcome the claims of the aristocracy of intellect. Our opponents may indignantly protest against such crude notions of the democratic levellers who even refuse to recognize intellectual distinction. Yet, quite as the old struggle against aristocracy was not meant to disparage their glorious ancestors, so our shafts are not directed against the intellect of the intellectuals. We object only to the material privileges which the knightly highwaymen and academic scribblers lay claim to. Since it is no more possible to brutally coerce the people to the production of wealth, the learned satellites of our rulers cheat them with the miracles of intellectual labor. The distinguished and lucrative position of the professor as well as the profits of the employer are defended under the false pretences that intellectual labor stands far higher and is ten times more productive than manual labor. Because we social-democrats are treating such presumptions with contempt, we are nicknamed “blasphemers of art and science.” We have the deepest contempt for the stilted phraseology of “culture and science” and for the talk of the graduated flunkeys who, like the pagan priests with their rudimentary knowledge of nature, use their sham idealism to keep the people in ignorance. The modern dualistic belief in the world of a scientific and of an ethical spirit, which is supposed to be superior to the common world and is therefore to control it, is nothing more than the rehashed superstition of an earthly and heavenly life. Professors who need the support of religion transform the Kingdom of God to a kingdom of scientific spirit. As Lord God finds his antipode in the devil so has the pious professor his antagonist in the materialist.
The materialistic conception of the world is just as old as the religious disbelief. And both have been worked up in the nineteenth century from their crude form to scientific precision. But our learned academicians fail to understand that, because they feel their social position endangered by the democratic tendencies inherent in materialism. Feuerbach says: “It is the characteristic feature of a professor of philosophy not to be a philosopher, and conversely, it is the characteristic feature of a philosopher not to be a professor of philosophy.” To-day we are a step farther. Not only philosophy but science in general has left its official mouthpieces behind. Even where there are materialistic professors in the professional chair, there adheres to them some unscientific religious nuisance in the form of an idealistic remnant as pieces of egg-shell to the unfledged bird. Furthermore, one swallow makes no summer, and the really scientific conception of a professor cannot take off the blot which sullies his whole class. As long as the middle classes and their leaders had to fulfill a civilizing mission, their academies were nurseries of learning. Since then, how ever, history has moved forward, and the struggle for a higher civilization has been devolved on the working class, the nethermost stratum of human society. Despite this historic change the old decaying rulers are making great efforts to preserve their power and are looking to the academic dignitaries for support, thus turning the “free scientists” into well-paid attorneys to defend a dying cause.
The socialist demand for a more equitable and popular distribution of economic goods can be realized by a democracy only, by a government of the people who do not tolerate the rule of a clique which, under the pretence of intellectual superiority, seeks to appropriate the lion’s share of the social wealth. In order to keep that presumptuous selfishness within reasonable bounds it is necessary to understand clearly the relation between mind and matter. Philosophy is therefore a subject which closely concerns the working class. This, of course, does by no means imply that every working man should try to become acquainted with philosophy and study the relation between idea and matter. From the fact that we all eat bread does not follow that we must understand milling and baking. But just as we need millers and bakers so does the working class stand in need of keen scholars who can follow up the tortuous ways of the false priests and lay bare the inanity of their tricks. Manual laborers do not sufficiently appreciate the real value of mental labor. Their healthy distrust against the leading scribblers of bourgeois society leads them too far. They see how much wrong-doing is going on under the cloak of intellectual work and are therefore inclined to undervalue mental labor and to overestimate manual labor. This brutal materialism must be counteracted. Physical vigor, bodily superiority was always the prerogative of the working classes. But in default of mental training they have so far been outwitted. The emancipation of the working classes requires that they should lay hold on the science of the century. The mere sentiment of indignation against the unjust conditions under which we suffer does not meet the case of freeing the working class, superior in numbers and physique as they may be. They must have recourse to the armory of intellect. Of all its weapons the theory of cognition or the theory of science, that is, the understanding of the scientific method of thinking, is the universal weapon against religious belief, driving it out of its last hidden recess.
The belief in Gods and demi-Gods, in Moses and the Prophets, the belief in the Pope, in the Bible, in the Kaiser, in his Bismarck and his government, in short, all belief in authorities, finds its definite and final reply in the science of mind. As long as we have not discovered how and where wisdom arises we are easily exposed to the danger of being bamboozled. The clear knowledge of how thoughts are being produced puts us on a coign of vantage which makes us independent of God, books and men. In dissolving the dualism of mind and matter, the theory of the scientific method of thinking destroys the last pillar which supports a society divided into rulers and ruled, into oppressors and oppressed.
I don’t think here is the proper place to enter more fully into the discussion of the theory of mind. I shall confine myself to the statement of some of its most evident and irrefutable propositions, in order to be able to oppose the presumption of the ruling classes which, by pleading intellectual work, endeavor to extenuate the charge of their exploitation of the people. The socialist attack on their economic, or class, position fills them with fanatic fury. They are therefore unable to bring the necessary impartiality to bear upon the study of subjects which may produce social changes. Mental and social science can hardly meet with the sympathy of an audience which, through their privileged and propertied position, are interested in clogging the wheel of civilization. Such a science appeals all the more to the judicious attitude of the have-nots, of the disinherited and oppressed.
Ad rem! Spirit is neither a ghost nor the breath of God. Idealists and materialists agree that spirit belongs to the category of “worldly things,” dwells in human brains, and is nothing else than an abstract expression, a collective noun expressive of thoughts which exist simultaneously and follow each other in organic order. If spirit is understood to be no more than another word for our force of thinking, who could then deny the some what paradoxical, yet empirical, proposition that mental work is a bodily effort? With this I venture to introduce you to the rather difficult chapter of contradictions. As line and point are but mathematical conceptions, so are contradictions no real things, but logical niceties, and have only a relative and comparative value. Relatively the great is small and the small great. In this sense we may say matter and mind, like all opposites, are logically but not really in opposition to each other, since all opposites are such only in way of comparison. Our body is so closely connected with our spirit, that physical labor is absolutely impossible without spiritual collaboration. Even the simplest work of an unskilled laborer requires the co-operation of mind. Conversely, the belief in metaphysics or in disembodied spiritual labor is an absurdity. Even the purest mental exercise is undoubtedly an effort of the body. All human work is both mental and physical. From my preceding lectures at least as much is evident, that thoughts not only originate from the brains and therefore proceed subjectively from matter, but that they always and everywhere have some palpable thing as their object. Cerebral matter is the subject of thought, the infinite material of the world is its object.
The mind as well as the body is eager to produce, to bring forth fruit. Therefore intellectual work must become materialized and bodily work spiritualized. An analysis of the product of labor will never indicate how much the mind has contributed to it and how much the body, for they operate together in close companionship, and not in isolation from each other. A certain work may be characterized, either as mental or physical, the product however, is made both by mind and body. Their contribution to the whole cannot be separated. Who could indicate in a kitchen-garden what parts of the plants are due to the spade, the arm of the gardener, the soil, the rain and the manure? It has always seemed to me an idle and poor endeavor to divide up the products of labor according to the factors which contributed to them. It is a perverse bourgeois idea which cannot be consummated and leads, moreover, in practice to just the opposite result. This idea appears to be the outcome of that cardinal perversion which wants to turn man into an independent producer who, freed from all social trammels, should compete with his fellow individuals and thus realize the fantastic ideals of personal liberty. But you, my friends, know full well, that all work in the capitalist world is in reality performed in common. The intellect of the journalist works for the manufacturers, and the manufacturers produce linen for the journalists, police agents, shoe-polishers, etc. One for all. Nobody looks for his ultimate object in his own product, everybody aims at the products of all which are supplied by the world’s market and find their realization in the form of money. If we judge the performance of each member of our society according to the money he receives, then the stockholders must have contributed an enormous amount of social labor.
The work of the individual and that of the family, the work of the factory and that of the whole society, is an organism, each part of which contributes to the whole. The contribution of each organ cannot be mechanically weighed or measured. The Socialist is quite aware that the workers are organs of the work process. He has completely given up the insipid idea of individualizing and dividing up a communistic product, and paying to each according to his deserts. Present society, with its misunderstood principle of suum cuique (each unto his own) and its grotesque justice, acts as unreasonably as the man who gives his eye an overweening care while utterly neglecting his leg. As the engineer is more careful about his smallest screws than about his big wheel, so do we desire that the product of social labor shall be divided according to the social needs, so that the strong and the weak, the swift and the clumsy, the mental and the physical labor, insofar as they are human, shall work and enjoy in human community.
That object, my comrades, is opposed by religion.
And not only by the formal, the common religion of priestcraft, but also by the most purified and sublime professional religion of hazy idealists. Since the publication of the first part of my sermon, I have been taken to task by several people that I was carried away too far by my criticism. Our friend Schafer of Francfort thinks that I was condemning Jesus for the misunderstanding of his followers. They had made of His teachings what the Master had never intended; we should therefore discriminate between the ideal true Christianity and the degenerated one. My criticism against the inordinate Christian humility was not well-founded, for the Lord Himself was courageous enough to chase the money-lenders out of the temple.
To that I should like to reply: Christianity aims at the divine control of the world. What a vain endeavor! Christianity itself is being controlled against its will and desire by the nature of things. “Therefore it is so full of compromises,” therefore the apostle, with all his desire for celibacy, must allow marriage, and therefore Christian non-resistance, which commands to tender the left cheek when the right one was smitten, is swept away by the indignation of the smitten. But, you see, it is not the consistency, it is, indeed, the inconsistency of Christianity, for it lays special stress on the necessity of absolute resignation, on the patience of the lamb carried to the shambles. Such humility has surely its limits, but that a revolutionary upheaval was a part of the divine mission is beyond doubt quite foreign to the spirit of Christianity, though we might find here and there an insignificant instance from which the contrary might be inferred. Whether Christ really meant or wanted such a humbleness, I cannot say. After all, why should such a question have any interest for us? Profane and true truth is not based upon personalities. It is based on external objects; it is objective. It does not lay claim to validity because it originates from a great master. The utmost we can say is that the master took hold of it because it was valid. And just in this lies the mistake and the superstition, of which our friend Schafer is guilty and which makes me indignantly knock at the pulpit that people are full of hero-worship and cannot give up their belief in authority and their idolatry of the great spirit.
Great men, who carry forward the beacon of knowledge, surely deserve all honor, but only insofar and as long as their teaching is founded on realities.
Love for the preceptorial office and for the prominence of the pulpit as well as the approval of a friendly and indulgent audience induce me to continue my sermons. It is, however, but fair to mention that there are a good many among you who blame me for being too “scholarly” or not “popular” enough. To that I reply that only trite sayings and truisms are easily comprehensible. The so-called popular things always move in the old ruts, while social-democracy has a new doctrine, based on principles which are generally misunderstood and require a total transformation of our mode of thinking, and therefore cannot be comprehended without a certain mental effort.
Religion, my comrades, is primitive philosophy. On the other hand, Social-democracy is a still growing product of the whole historic past. We are, therefore, justified in substituting historically developed, worldly, Science for Religion and do not deviate from our subject by dwelling on worldly, non-religious, matter in these hours of devotion. I called religion philosophy because it claims not only to redeem us, with the help of Gods, and by praying and whining, from the earthly miseries, but also to lend a systematic frame to our thinking. The universal significance of religion for uncultured tribes is founded on the universal need for a systematic knowledge of the world. Just as we generally have a practical need for the dominion over the things of the world, so do we generally have a theoretical need for a systematic view of life. We require to see the beginning and the end of everything. The insipid clamor about the universality, eternity and inevitability of religion is not without some justification. To flatly deny it would be Russian nihilism which was justly expelled from the “International.”  We are far from senseless negation. We scorn the “Kulturkämpfer,” in order to fight for real culture. We acknowledge that the need for a systematic view of the world is inherent in man who always requires a canon for his thoughts and deeds. The things which engage his attention, as for instance mind and body, the transient and the lasting, time and eternity, reality and appearance, ethics, state and society, he wants to see in a certain order and logical sequence. Man requires to have a reasonable connection of his ideas, so that he may bring a reasonable system into practical life. We, too, we social-democrats and defenders of revolutionary movements, feel the same want. Servile trimmers and bunglers may perhaps on that ground think us religious. We reject that qualification. Not because we refuse to admit that religious and social-democratic philosophy have something in common, but because we want to emphasize the difference between them and to break away not only internally, but externally also, in name and deed, in short completely from everything which smacks of priestcraft.
Yet, it is not sufficient to dethrone the fantastic and religious system of life; it is necessary to put a new system, a rational one, in its stead. And that, my friends, only the socialists can accomplish. Or, if the doctors of philosophy think this language too presumptuous, I will put it differently, though the meaning remains the same: our social-democracy is the necessary outcome of a non-religious and sober way of thinking. It is the outcome of philosophic science. Philosophers wrestled with the priests in order to replace a non-civilized mode of thinking by a civilized one, to replace faith by science. The object is achieved, the victory is won. Cannibal religion of primitive ages was softened by Christianity, philosophy continued in its civilizing mission, and after many untenable and transient systems produced the imperishable system of science, the system of democratic (dialectic) materialism.
The Prussian professor Treitschke thinks the self-confidence of social-democracy to be a clever trick used with the purpose of imposing upon the people. Of course, he looks for us behind that hedge where he is sheltering himself. The professional sycophants, the prostitutes of the pen, having long ago sold their honor, are quite unable to grasp either the convincing power of truth or the self-confidence inspired by a consistent and systematic view of the world. The socialist philosophy, with which we are dealing, is a closely serried and well-knit system. A thorough treatment of it could only be carried out from a professional chair specially appointed for that purpose. My task is a different one. In the first place I want to interest you in the new philosophy and to stimulate you to further investigation and thinking for yourselves. I am to-day more of a raconteur who does not begin with the beginning nor finish with the end, but by a rambling method wants to excite the curiosity of his audience. I am giving you the outlines and the salient points only, which you should fill up and further develop by your own work.
We call ourselves materialists. Just as religion is a generic term for various beliefs, so is materialism a general name for various scientific conceptions. Reviewing the world from the lofty standpoint of the religious heaven, everything – even the purest ether – appears to be common matter, dirt and clay. All philosophy, even idealist Platonism, all scientific investigation, all positive knowledge is in the distorted eyes of religion no more than material aspiration. Indeed, all philosophers are materialists in disguise, for all of them want real knowledge, knowledge of real truth. Materialists in the contemptible sense of the word, who find the whole object of life in eating, drinking and in the satisfaction of physical wants – simple philistines have no room in science, they form no particular school and do no theorizing whatever. Philosophic materialists, on the other hand, are those thinkers who put the real world at the beginning, at the head of their investigation, and the idea or spirit as the sequel and outcome, as the product, while their opponents follow the opposite method : they decree, after the religious method, the rise of reality from the logos (God spake and it was), the material world from the idea. No doubt, materialism suffered heretofore from the lack of sound logical evidence. But now we social-democrats accept the name, with which our opponents think to abuse us, because we know that “the stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.” We would be equally justified to call ourselves idealists, inasmuch as our system is based on the final results of philosophy, on the scientific investigation of ideas, on the clear insight won into the nature of mind. How little our opponents are capable of understanding us is shown by the contradictory names given us. One time we are called crude materialists whose only desire is to lay hold of the wealth of the rich, and another time, when dealing with our communistic ideals, we are called inveterate idealists. As a matter of fact we are both materialists and idealists at the same time. Palpable, true reality is our ideal, the ideal of social-democracy is material.
The Alphabet of Knowledge for the Thinking, published lately in the Volksstaat, designated the inductive method as the “impregnable basis of all science, which builds on facts.” The application of this method to all problems of the world, that is the systematic application of induction shapes the socialist conception of the world into a system. Its categorical imperative is as follows: “Thou shalt not begin to speculate without material; thou shalt base thy deductions, rules and axioms on facts only, on palpable realities. Thinking must begin with data.” We begin to speculate, but we don’t speculate about the beginning. We know once for all, that all thinking must begin with some fragment of a real phenomenon, with a given beginning; the inquiry into the beginning of the beginning is therefore a nonsense, contradictory to the general law of logic. Those who speak of the beginning of the world imply that time was antecedent to the world. “Nothing was” are two words which preclude each other. That something was which was not, can only be asserted by a shrewd idiot who draws square circles. Nothing can only mean: not this nor that. Our philosophic system begins with the knowledge that beginning and end are, if I may say so, subjective modes, or categories, of the human mind.
And as logical as the beginning is our sequence. The whole metaphysics, which Kant sums up as the question after God, free will and immortality, finds its final solution in our system, through our knowledge that understanding and reason is an absolutely inductive faculty. That is, our comprehension of the world is perfect when we arrange and divide the empirical things according to their general qualities in species, classes, conceptions, etc. This is quite a truism which would hardly be worth discussing but for the superstitious and ideologues who are never tired of jabbering about deduction. They assert that our intellect possesses still a second method in ascertaining the truth, though simple, palpable truth is inductive. But they claim that in mathematics for instance, the deductive method is supreme and independent of experience. Knowing that two and two equals four we also KNOW that the same result would be obtained in heaven and on earth and always and everywhere. Insofar we also know of times and dimensions which no human eye ever perceived and no human ear ever heard. That a camel has two humps was a simple experience, but that two and two equal four, or that the part is smaller than the whole is claimed to be a transcendental, metaphysical truth, a deduction from pure reason. They believe, so to speak, in an inner light which revealed them the mysteries of mathematics, ethics, the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, freedom of will and other transcendental moonshine. Thanks to the idealistic studies of a Descartes, Spinoza, Leibnitz, Kant, Fichte, Hegel we were able to advance to our materialistic philosophy, to reveal the deductive ghost of the transcendentalists. The celebrities of philosophy have one after another so far promoted and strengthened the cause of truth that we social-democrats, standing on their shoulders, are able to understand completely the mechanical nature of all knowledge of the religions, the speculative as well as the mathematical. It may sound strange that that knowledge is due to our party standpoint, considering that a scientific result is a human affair. Yet, our assertion is easily comprehensible, for social-democracy does not represent a party, but humanity. The party of the disinherited is the party of the disinterested, is the party of impartial truth. We social-democrats have the easiest access to philosophy, for our mind is not dimmed by narrow selfishness.
The transcendental certainty, the deduction which is to be found in the proposition that two and two equal four, is, like any other deduction, a mere subterfuge; four and two times two are but different terms for one and the same thing. Everything has a certain substance. Smaller parts form the substance of the whole; handle and blade form the substance of a knife; two mountains have a dale between, and in the number four is contained two times two. Thus, because the substance is quite mechanically given in a thing, we are apodictically certain and transcendentally convinced that two times two equal four, the part is smaller than the whole, the knife is not without a handle and a blade, and two mountains are not without a valley. Where only the wet is called water, there we don’t need any special transcendental faculty to know categorically that water must be wet. No special light is necessary to attain to the understanding that deduction, like any other profane knowledge, is based in the last resort on empirical facts. Yet, after all inquiries into facts, and after all understanding of their bearing, they are not a whit less miraculous than before. So, for instance, we know that grape-juice turns almost overnight into an intoxicating liquor. How is that to be comprehended? The chemist will tell you: “It is fermentation. Grape-sugar, exposed to the influence of heat and air, turns into alcohol.” Thus the incomprehensible is explained, the production of wine is a chemical process belonging to the general class of fermentation. Facts are comprehended by ranging and classifying them into a certain system, and not by dissolving them into logical alcohol. Philosophic mysticism is an undigested remnant of the theological period. In order to dispose of both of them in a radical manner it is necessary to be imbued with the knowledge that facts do not rest on logical grounds, but conversely that the fundamental basis of all logic is ever the fact, the being, the external reality.
I must apologize, my friends, for troubling you with such hair-splitting dissertations. I am quite aware that there are but few among us who care for such discussions, but the few are just sufficient for our purpose. It is necessary that some of us should be able to face official philosophy. We must lay bare the foundation of our theory in order that the sight of its granitic rock shall demonstrate in a striking manner to the impartial observer how shifty the sands are on which the braggarts of the existing order have piled up their contradictions. They reason without any system, without any logic or consistency. They have advanced the proposition that everything must have a cause, a beginning and an end. But how do they demonstrate it? They demonstrate it with the belief in a God who has no beginning, and in a life which has no end. The same lack of consistency is to be found in the politics of the existing order. One of its organic laws promises freedom of public meeting and speech; but where the people make use of that freedom and come together to express their sentiments and thoughts, there the policeman is set on them. Is this system, logic or consistency? O, yes! It is the system of infamy. All the deeds and thoughts of our rulers are concentrated in the logical idea : We are at the top and we mean to stay there for good.
Our last considerations were devoted to the traditional saying: “Man needs religion,” which we ventured to translate into reasonable language by declaring: “Man needs system.” It is his intellectual need to gain a safe standpoint from which he could survey the world. In order not to go astray in the midst of the bewildering multitude of phenomena, man divides the heavens into constellations of stars, the cosmos into regions, and likewise our earth into classes, species, families and in dividuals. In short, he gives diversity diversified names. To have system implies the ability of finding one’s way and of classifying things. That an animal is the subject of zoology, and a plant the subject of botany is easily grasped, but it is by no means so easy to tell the branch of knowledge where such notions as truth, freedom, justice, etc., belong to. No system is perfect unless it has found a place for every phenomenon, has classified everything and has made provisions for everything. Founders of religion as well as philosophers at tempted to make such systems, but none has stood the test. The stream of time has brought and is still bringing to light new phenomena, new experiences, new things for which no provision was made. They don’t fit into the prevailing system, and therefore a new one was necessary, until social-democracy was wise enough to construct a system of thought sufficiently comprehensive for all present and future phenomena.
This is apparently an overweening assertion. In order to justify it I must somewhat retrace the steps we have taken until now. As the theologians look for a God who unites in his personality the omnipotence of the world, so the philosophers have been searching for a system which concentrates all knowledge in a single knot, so as to swallow all science in one bite. We know, how ever, that a color cannot be green and blue and yellow and black at the same time; that is, that the whole species cannot be incorporated in one individual. All science cannot be concentrated in a single human being and still less in a single conception. Yet, I ventured to assert that we possess such a concentration. Or does not the conception of matter contain all materials of the world?
So, too, has all science one general form in common, namely the inductive method. That the induction is the only general form of science, and that induction can be applied to all problems, to all objects – this conviction lends to social-democracy its systematic steadiness, its mental superiority, which astonish our opponents. We do not know everything, but we know the general form of all science and use it as a touchstone to find out all the tricks played against the people by the henchmen of our rulers. In natural science the inductive method is well-known, but that there is in it a systematic philosophy which is destined to put an end to all religious, philosophical and political humbug, this is a social-democratic novelty and acquisition.
Our opponents, the rulers and the rich, the progressives, liberals and free-masons are also advocates of induction but only insofar as it suits their purpose. They divide everything: the people into masters and servants; life into an earthly and heavenly one; the person into body and soul; and science into induction and deduction.
Now, dividing and classifying cannot be objected to, provided that there is system, that the divided parts are kept under one heading, and that the diversity is known to be but a gradual one. It is not unreasonable to divide life into an earthly and a spiritual one, but when so doing we must be conscious that both are forms of the selfsame life, and that both are of equal value. Social-democrats, too, have a body and a soul. Our body is the sum total of our corporeal qualities, and our soul is the sum total of our mental qualities. Yet, we must always remember that the empirical phenomenon comprises all matters uniformly, and that it is the common term for flesh and soul, for body and spirit. Soul or spirit is in our opinion an attribute of the world and not, as the priest asserts to the contrary, the world the attribute or the handiwork of the spirit. Darwin teaches the descent of man from animal. He, too, differentiates man from animal, but only as two products of the same material, as two varieties of the same species, as two sequences in the same system. A systematic and consistent classification of this kind, as well as the cosmic unity is unknown to our opponents. In this respect the good old religious life must be commended. It had at least a certain system. Earthly and heavenly life, lordship and slavery, faith and knowledge, were all under the united and centralized government of Him who said: “I am the Lord, thy God.”
I know quite well, that the believers, too, have a dualism and are guilty of a relative lack of system. I am quite aware that they are fluttering between heaven and earth. However, before the liberal wedge of doubt had entered the religious flesh, when religion was a more serious affair, it was also less dualistic. The devil was but a tool, the earthly life but a transitional term of probation for the eternal life. One was subordinated to the other. There was a center of gravity and a system. In comparison with modern half-heartedness and free-masonry, religion did encompass the whole in a monistic manner.
This consistent encompassing of the whole, my dear friends, is a difficult problem with which the human mind has grappled since it began working. The nineteenth century has solved the problem and given philosophy a system. If in spite of all the light and leading of our thinkers and scientists, people are still groping in the dark, it must be due to political reasons. Reactionary ill-will has scented the revolutionary consequences of the inductive method. Hegel himself was already cautious enough to put his light under the bushel. And his more courageous followers could not make headway at a time when conservative vileness governed supreme. Even to this day the privileged classes are doing their utmost to keep the smouldering embers well under the ashes. Comrades, let us fan them into flames. When they are aglow all the children of the night will disappear.
The stomach can’t go on without food and drink, nor the head without a system, that is, without a connected view of life, a “ final cause “ from which everything proceeds. This final cause is rather a ticklish thing.
According to the religious systems God is the final cause. Liberal ideologues believe it possible to base everything on reason. Prejudiced materialists find in hidden atoms the final cause of the universe, while social-democrats demonstrate everything by induction. We hold to induction on principle, that is we know that knowledge cannot be got by deduction, by drawing from pure reason, but that it is gained through the instrumentality of reason from experience.
That logical method is already known to other people, but they lack the systematic knowledge of it, they lack consistency. The philosophy of the anti-socialists is not homogeneous; it is rather a mixture of induction and deduction. They know how to induce, but they don’t know the system of induction. They are well acquainted with details, but they utterly fail when dealing with the general aspect of the world. They can readily find the beginning and end of a certain thing, they can tell in concrete cases which is sham and which reality. But when confronted with the question of the general beginning or of the general relation of truth, justice, energy, matter, unity and multiplicity, cause and effect – they are at their wits’ end and the rearing of the Tower of Babel begins. Some quote the Revelation, others take refuge in Kant or in some other venerable classic, still others forsake theology and philosophy altogether and apply themselves to scientific experiments and expect the solution of the problem from natural science.
In the face of such a helpless muddle international social-democracy is proud to know the “final cause” on which everything rests, and to possess a scientific basis for everything, and a systematic philosophy. Our decided superiority of principle is clearly manifested by the unanimity of our aspirations and demands, while our opponents are hopelessly divided on all questions of religion and politics. To be sure, there are differences of opinion in our ranks too, yet the anti-socialists have no reason whatsoever to rail at the dissensions among the social-democrats. We quarrel about detail, about forms of organizations, about practical and tactical questions, but in general principles and in matters of theory we stand as a solid and united phalanx, shoulder to shoulder, for we have what the Old- and New-Catholics, Protestants and Freethinkers would like to have: we have system. The beginning and end of all philosophy is clear to us.
Of course, comrades, this does not mean that every social-democrat possesses a full knowledge of the system. Not all of us have received a systematic training, else there would be no need for my preaching. What I ventured to assert is that your social-democratic aspirations proceed from systematic science. I assert that the inductive demonstration of a thing is the only, true, scientific demonstration, and that a consistent application of induction yields very remarkable anti-religious and revolutionary results. I should very much like to enter into details illustrating my assertion, but I must for the present abstain from that in order to first consolidate the foundation of our philosophy.
I repeat, and as a preacher who is anxious to drive home his teaching I am entitled to repeat: In the place of religion social-democracy puts a systematic conception of the universe.
This philosophy finds its “ final cause “ in the real conditions. The philosophy of the Liberals acts in the same way in natural science and in business only, while in matters of human society it looks for the final cause in the revelations of reason, instead of religion. They want their notions of justice, truth and liberty to be the models for an equitable, true and free society. The fact that feudal as well as liberal and clerical ideals of justice, freedom, political truth and wisdom have been moulded after the material interests of those respective parties, could not fail to teach us that ideals do not spring from the human head, but are formed by the human head from empirical materials.
Therefore we are able to mould consciously and with systematic consistency our notions of justice and liberty after our material needs, that is the needs of the proletariat, of the masses. The real bodily need and the present possibility of a “life worth living” is the “final cause” from which spring the equity, truth and rationality of the social-democratic demands. In the system of induction the body precedes the spirit and the fact the notion.
The frequent use of one and the same word having a soporific effect on the mind, I shall for a change call our system “The System of Experimental Truth.” The dawdlers of the bourgeois parties talk a good deal of divine, moral, logical, etc., truths. We, however, know of no divine truth, we but know the empirical truth. We may divide it into parts and give them special names, but its general character will remain. Truths, no matter how we call them, are based on physical, corporeal, material experience. As such they are but parts or classes of the experimental system. We cut only from one, from one whole. We demonstrate our propositions empirically and really, and our procedure is systematic and logical. Could there be, my friends, anything more evident than such evidence?
Having laid bare the foundation we proceed to look at the structure of our universal system from the most elevated point of vantage. We see the infinite diversity of things to consist of the same homogeneous, empirical material. All diverse qualities possess one general quality. How different they may be, big or small, ponderable or imponderable, spiritual or physical, all things of the world have this in common, that they are empirical objects of our intellect. From the standpoint of the inductive system the world and all it contains forms but one homogeneous object. All its details are but modalities of the absolute unity. Physical phenomena or empirical materials are the universal species in relation to which all other classes are but subdivisions. It is the only substance and truth, everything else is but a quality and a relative manifestation. Solid and liquid, wood and metal, are quite correctly summed up under the notion “matter.” Why should we not be justified in summing up all things under the term “empirical truth” or “empirical phenomenon?” Nothing can prevent us then from dividing it into organic and inorganic, into physical and moral, into good and bad, etc. Through the common origin all antagonisms are conciliated and bridged over. Diversity is but a form; in their essence all things are alike. The final cause of all things is the empirical phenomenon. The empirical material is the general elementary substance. It is absolute, eternal and omnipresent. Where it ends, all reasoning is at an end.
The inductive system may as well be called the dialectic or evolutionary system. Here we find what is more and more being proved by natural science, that seemingly essential differences are but differences in degree. However strict we may be in determining the specific characteristics which differentiate the organic from the inorganic or the plants from the animals, Nature shows that the lines of demarcation disappear and the differences and antagonisms coalesce. The cause effects and the effect causes. The truth appears and the appearance is true. As heat and cold differ but in degree, so do good and bad – they are all relative manifestations of the same substance, and forms or classes of physical experience.
I see in the audience some new guests to whom the monism which I preach appears to be so strange and unheard of that they are very anxious to hurl against me the most insipid objections. They would like to ask how it was possible to prove that empirical material is the primary component part of all objects of science? And are there no such things as God, pure reason and moral world?
By such questions you may see, my friends, how deeply rooted irrationality is in man. God, pure reason, moral world and many other things do not consist of empirical material; they are not forms of the physical phenomenon and we deny therefore their existence. Yet, the ideas, with which this kind of reasoning operates, have appeared physically and have a real existence and can be made the subject-matter of our inductive examination. The terms physical, empirical, etc., are generally understood in their narrower sense. I supplement them therefore with the adjective “experimental.”
The denominational systems of the religious, and the rational systems of the freethinkers put up different claims. The system of empirical truth, to which social-democracy adheres, can only be based on induction; it recognizes only those notions, doctrines and theories which are consciously taken from empirical material. From the height of that system we discover the bridge which unites philosophy with natural science. The bridge is constructed from one rock, the rock of all wisdom which consists of the knowledge that the human intellect is an inductive instrument. All specific disciplines are but applications of this general truth and science. The intellect is the commander-in-chief of all knowledge. The specialties of science are his subordinates. The systems of astronomy or chemistry, botany or optics are departments of the general system.
Those of my audience, who despite having carefully followed my dissertations, have not grasped yet the full bearing of socialist philosophy, I beg to consider how impossible it is to do full justice to a subject of that magnitude within the compass of a half an hour. And if I wanted to work it out more completely, I should fear to tire my audience.
However, many an opportunity will present itself in the course of our lectures to take up the matter again. For the present it must suffice to have laid bare the foundation and to have strengthened and solidified our party-consciousness by turning the attention of the comrades to the first principles of socialism.
1. “Social-Democracy” is used in the wider sense of the word as the most prominent representation of militant Socialism. The reader may, therefore, safely change “The Religion, Ethics and Philosophy of Social Democracy” into: “Socialism and Religion, Ethics, Philosophy.”
2. This was written before the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, 1870.
3. An allusion to the expulsion of Bakounin from the “International” in 1872.