Karl Kautsky

Clericalism and the Socialist Attitude Thereto
A Symposium


Source: Social Democrat, 1903, 1904.
Transcribed: Ted Crawford, April 2003. [1*]

I SAY that the real enemy of Socialism is not Clericalism but capitalism, which oppresses to-day all nations.

But because Clericalism is the more or less conscious ally of the exploiting classes, therefore Socialists must do all they can against it, In this struggle, however, they must not rely much on the anti-Clericalism of the middle class, because, though it will use big words in attacking the Church, it is only in so far as she wishes to obtain absolute power or to divide it with the capitalists. The middle-class would, however, support the Church if she helped it in defending the bourgeoisie. Clericalism cannot be killed in a capitalist society. Like militarism, and like all institutions which exist under the wages system, Clericalism will only disappear on the day when the proletariat obtains complete power. It is a serious error to urge the workers to fight the Clericals rather than the capitalists, and it will retard the complete triumph of the proletariat.

Pablo Iglesias,                    
Secretary of the Spanish Socialist Party.
Madrid, October 21, 1902

IN answer to your letter asking me for my opinion as to the attitude of the Socialist Party towards the Church, I think that the only line to be taken is that of uncompromising hostility.

The Church is a powerful, crafty, and resourceful enemy. It is, perhaps, a mistake to provoke her, but she can never be the friend of democratic progress, or of the intellectual development of the people, and will always be their irreconcilable foe. The more friendly she is the more dangerous she will be.

As an institution, the Church stands for obscurantism and for reaction. There is no iniquity so vile, no crime, however monstrous, that the Church has not blessed and sanctified if perpetrated in the interests of the rich and powerful.

The Church is one of the pillars of capitalism, and the true function of the clergy is to chloroform the workers, to make docile wage-slaves of them, patient and contented with their lot in this world while expecting a glorious reward in the next.

As long as the Church holds the minds of the workers in its grip, there will be little hope of freeing their bodies from capitalist supremacy.

H. Quelch            
London, October 25, 1902

THE editor of the Mouvement Socialiste asked me, as well as other comrades, to state what, in my opinion, should be the position of the German Socialist party in a struggle between the State and the Church; and, as there are on this point differences of opinion among French Socialists themselves, it would be important, I was told, looking at the conflict going on at the present time in France against the religious orders, to know the opinions of the German party on this point.

The question is also one which interests Germany; the debates of the Munich Congress with reference to Welker’s speeches prove this. The struggle against the party of the Centre – the Catholic party in Germany – is the most prominent among our next duties. The Centre will try to use the Church against us, and will endeavour to use its influence on the masses for our detriment.

Not only in France and in Germany, but also in Belgium, in Holland, in Austria, in Spain, the Church is gaining power, and she uses it in attacking the militant proletariat. It is not, therefore, useless to again examine the reciprocal position of the Socialist democracy and the Church.


We shall only consider the Catholic Church. As far as Protestant Churches are concerned, the problem takes another aspect. In Protestantism itself we must distinguish between the established churches and the democratic sects which have developed, especially in Anglo-Saxon countries. We must leave all this on one side, or matters would be too complicated.

But we cannot speak of the Church without first defining religion, and this is no easy matter. The idea of religion is very confused and very variable, and the number of definitions is legion. This is always the case for any complex social phenomenon, such as the Revolution, for example. However, all definitions of religion can be considered under two heads. They have often been confounded, and yet they are mutually exclusive. Schiller has already referred to them in his famous couplet, “What is my religion? None of those thou namest. And why? Because I am religious.” On the one hand, religion may be defined as a certain individual sentiment – as personality rising above self-interest; it is a kind of moral idealism, an exaltation. On the other hand, religion is a general historical phenomenon, a system of the universe which is not formulated by reason, but by an act of faith which is accepted by the masses on trust, and which becomes the rule of their thoughts and acts. Two very different concepts have, therefore, the same name, the reason being that the human mind willingly deceives itself if in a false position, and obliged to recognise as false something which is deeply ingrained in all the fibres of man’s inner nature. He makes his heart easier in giving the same name to the new idea, to the new institution which takes the place of the old. He thinks that the new is better than the old. This may be all right for sentiment, but it is not scientifically clear, because there are two absolutely distinct ideas which have the same name.

Religion, looked at as a matter of sentiment, as a private affair, and religions of the masses, developed historically and considered as an effect of social life, are not only different but are often hostile For the first only recognises as a guide personal conscience, the others demand that conscience should submit to a social authority which claims a supernatural authority. The constitution of this authority is the social condition inherent to all collective religion, and that alone concerns us. In the primitive natural religions, this authority is the whole of the believers. The individual did not count, but it was the clan or the tribe. These ruled the individual, his thoughts conformed to customs, and from them he obtained the surest rules and ideas both in morals, in ethics, and in religion. It is not the same in religions which have been formed after the dissolution of ancient society. The tribe, the clan, the commune – all which protected the individual – have disappeared. He is now placed in a monstrous society, in a society full of toil and misery which is hastening to ruin. Full of terror, he seeks a remedy and looks out for a new saviour. Frightened and timid, he humbles himself before any new power and tends to look on it as superhuman and as divine. In the midst of general ruin, an ordinary human power cannot save him. Without hesitation he accords divine honours to the Caesars, he believes in the divine origin of a new community, which, conscious itself, becomes more powerful as society decays. Man believes the new doctrines and submits to those who teach them.

The old national religions were democratic. They had their source in the general conscience, and in the beginning they knew no distinct religious caste. Each man formed a part of the authority which created and spread the religious faith, and they were also national. On the other hand, the religions which are formed when ancient society is decaying are only democratic at the beginning, when they are outside society and do not influence it. They are formed of two classes – the poor and the rich, disciples and masters, laymen and clerics, and they are international.

But side by side with these general causes which refer to social order and which bring about the authority of the clergy in the Church, there are other purely economic reasons. When Christianity was established, not only were all organs and all traditional social powers destroyed, but the misery of the mass of mankind was spreading and getting worse and worse. The Christian communities first formed organisations which sought to remedy these evils by a kind of communism which certainly was not that of modern Social-Democracy. It has often been noticed that the Roman proletariat of the imperial epoch was not formed by a wage-earning class, but by beggars. Agriculture was then the chief industry, so that communism was not a communism of production but of distribution. It took place in the distribution and not in the production of wealth.

This is not the place to show that such a communism cannot become a general and lasting institution which can be adapted to society. All that can be done here is to show briefly the social tendencies of the Church. If strictly applied, communism in consumption presupposes domestic communism, the transformation of society into a family. The primitive Christian communities were able to realise this ideal, but they had to give it up as they became more numerous. For as soon as the Church attained a certain degree of development, the domestic community could no longer apply to all its members. This communistic tendency could in practice only be realised under certain conditions – by remaining strictly a domestic community and thus suppressing marriage and the family. But this would only suit a small circle of the elect, who considered themselves to be saints, and were opposed to the mass of the population who still believed in private property. Monasteries formed such communities; their members could not hold private property, but this prohibition did not prevent each of these associations from acquiring property which tended to grow larger because it did not follow the rule of private property, which has a tendency to become smaller on account of the right of inheritance. The monastic communism was therefore a means of creating more property, and under it this property tended to increase, and thus Christian communism became a new principle of inequality.

Side by side was developed a more general kind of property. In the beginning, each member of the community was asked to sell all he had and to give the money to the leaders, who either helped the poor or used it for the general aims of the community. But if this had been carried out universally the whole of society would have been ruined, and all the means of production would have been transformed into means of consumption, and the progress of production and of society would have been impossible. In practice the rigour of this rule was relaxed, and the possessor did not sell all his property, but only the surplus which he did not require for his own use. The leaders of Christian communities soon saw that their duty did not consist only in persuading the rich to distribute their goods to the poor and to call thieves those who did not do this, but they also understood that they must curb the cupidity of the poor and repress their guilty desires. The right of the poor to the wealth of the rich became an alms, and the Church – the organiser of the Christian community – was the intermediary which distributed help and administered the funds which were consecrated to this purpose.

The Church could not therefore suppress the antagonism between rich and poor, but instead she made of it a new social antagonism. In its origin, her organisation was democratic and her functionaries were elected by the members of the community. But as the Church grew and her wealth increased, her functionaries – the clerics – became more independent. The poor living on alms became more and more docile, and with them the rich could always be kept in check. The two fought, but the clergy always won. If the riches of the monks grew, the possessions of the Church also increased, and her organised clergy became a power in the land. In vain did the Roman Emperors try to suppress her; socially she was necessary-it was the only means, though still imperfect and very expensive, of dealing with the frightful poverty and of saving society from ruin. The Emperors had no organisation at hand capable of carrying on these functions; they waged war against the Church and soon were compelled either to be overthrown by her or to share their power with her. It was not the beauty of the Christian doctrine, but the possibility of using the Church, an organised power, as an ally, which made Constantine become a Christian.

Christianity entered into a new phase at the invasion of the German tribes. They were neither decadent nor enslaved; there was no general misery among them; and they needed neither moral nor economic help outside their communistic and democratic organisations. Full of arrogance and audacity, they did not ask for a saviour, because they thought they were strong enough to save the Saviour. A German chieftain, Clovis, hearing about the sufferings of Jesus Christ, called out: “If I only had been there with my warriors! We should have exterminated the executioners!” But in spite of all this, they had to submit with great reluctance to the rule of Christian priests. The civilisation of Christianity, which had its origin in an epoch of decadence, constituted a real retrogression from the most brilliant period of antiquity; its science, its economics, its art, were inferior, if compared to those of Roman or Greek antiquity, but better than those of German barbarism. Brute force had to bow down before the superiority of Roman doctrine and its priests. They ruled the ignorant Germans as they had ruled over the Roman world, which was morally corrupt and economically wretched. In the terrible struggles of the invasions, the German tribes, which bowed down before the Roman Church, receiving its culture, and accepting its political ideals, could alone triumph. The tribes hostile to the Church were destroyed, crushed and absorbed; all were conquered by the Franks, which among the Germans played the same part as Constantine among the Caesars. They were the first who recognised the power of the Church, and knew how to use it.

Such were the principal foundations of the power of the clergy; as benefactors of the poor they acquired economic power, and their strength was also due at times to the weakness of the masses, and at times to their ignorance.

Since then the clergy have well developed this characteristic, though they had sometimes to share their power with other classes; but at the time of the Crusades the Catholic Church, centralised in the papacy, became master of Europe, and the chief power of Western Christianity. Since the Reformation the power of the clergy has diminished, but their character has remained the same. On one very important point, however, they have changed – the height of their power and of their riches being in the past; that is where they place their ideal. If from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Crusades their tendencies were progressive, and facilitated social development, during the last centuries they have become more and more reactionary. Necessity, however, compels them to temporise with modern conditions, but all attempt at reinstating mediaeval forms must fail. Any class, doomed to economic decay, and resisting the progress of evolution finds great help from the Catholic clergy. (At the same time I should not like to praise official Protestant churches.)

The Catholic Church is the avowed enemy of all revolutionary movements; doubtless she bows down before victorious revolutions, but any revolutionary class which is developing may expect to see the Church use against her all the arms she has. She hates all efforts at putting a stop to exploitation and class differences. The remains of the particular communism which she practised in the beginning, the different ways by which she helps the poor, and the sick, and teaches youth, are only useful to her so as to be able to detach many members of the working classes from the class war.

This antagonism between the Church and Social-Democracy does not mean that it is impossible to be at the same time a believing Christian and a convinced Social-Democrat. Christianity is the product of numerous factors, it has gone through so many social transformations and has been so modified that the root idea of Christianity has become very vague, and as a religion it embraces the most opposite ideas. Therefore certain Socialist tendencies can be read in it. And, as a matter of fact, the Socialist movement is nearer primitive Christianity than any other modern movement, for both are of proletarian origin. It was the poor proletariat, reduced to beggary, and not the proud proletariat – the military proletariat – which gave Christianity its first importance, but whatever be the cause the class antagonism goes well with the Christian doctrine of the gospels. A man can be an excellent Christian and yet take part in the class struggle. This observation applies still more to the millions of those who now form the mass of Christians and who remain members of their Church without thinking much about her. The militant organised proletariat, the Social-Democracy, has no reason to put aside such allies if they can and are willing to join in the class struggle as we understand it.

Our French comrades will not agree to this, for in France since the eighteenth century there has been a bitter feud between the Catholic clergy and the revolutionary classes, so that it is impossible in that country to be a Catholic and a Socialist; but the case is not the same in other countries.

In the United States, for instance, two Catholic priests, Fathers MacGrady and Hagerty, are two of the most zealous propagandists of Social-Democracy. They had a forerunner in MacGlynn, who, as a Catholic priest, carried on, in 1887, with Henry George and the Socialists of New York, a propaganda to form a working class party and at the same time remained a Catholic.

But as a general organisation, apart from individuals, the Catholic clergy think differently on this subject. Where one cannot be at the same time a good Catholic and a good Social Democrat, this is due to the clergy and not to our party. If the clergy ignore at times the action of some of their flock, or even of some of their members who rake part in the struggle, the clerical interests and traditions are in too direct contradiction with the emancipation of the proletariat for the Church not to be opposed to any serious attempts of its members to take part in the class struggle – even if this struggle was not with our party and was in accord with religious ideals. Christian Socialism can hardly be taken seriously, even if it is not a demagogic charlatanism, and can never really help the freeing of the proletariat.

This observation specially refers to cases where the conditions are most favourable, as in the United States, and this was shown by the case of MacGlynn. His propaganda resulted in his excommunication by the Pope. MacGrady and Hagerty have not got that yet, but the violent attacks of the Catholic press show that little less will be their reward. They will soon have to choose between the Church and Socialism.

Therefore, though Social-Democracy respects all religious opinions, though it considers them to be a matter for individual opinion, though the doctrines of the Gospel are quite compatible with the aims which we pursue, our party cannot avoid coming into collision with that authority which rules the Catholic religion, as a collective religion, and must incur the hostility of the clergy.

The clergy is also the enemy of the Liberal middle class, and we are living in a period when clerical power is increasing. Ought we therefore to ally ourselves with this middle class in order to oppose the growth of the clerical party? Some French Socialists have recently done so. And might we not thus bring about an alliance between Liberalism and Socialism, which is considered of value by many people?

There may be antagonism and yet there need not be alliance. We are opposed to industrial capitalism, just as much as the agrarians and the feudalists, but should we therefore join the party of Disraeli and of Rodbertus in a common attack on the capitalist classes? Reality has already, for a long time, shown that this was an illusion.

It is not sufficient to show that there is a common antagonism. We must see what are the reasons for which Liberalism is an opponent of clericalism, and understand what methods should be employed against it.

Karl Kautsky      
Editor of the Neue Zeit

(To be continued)





The interests of the middle classes and those of the Catholic Church act and react on each other in a strange way. This is due to the part played by the latter as an organised power, considering the economic functions that it exercises, its international character, and finally its reactionary sympathies.

Let us first consider the last point. Since the end of the Middle Age, the Catholic Church is not only the adversary of the proletariat but of every revolutionary class. The zenith of the mediaeval form of society and of the State also was the zenith of its power. Therefore, the Church always wishes to return to that state of things. It was the growing middle class which helped most to destroy these ancient forms, and the Church has had its fiercest fights with that class. When a thinker belonging to the middle classes was bold and large-minded he was always anti-clerical, and the Church for Voltaire and his friends was the Infamous which had first of all to be destroyed. During this struggle the proletariat has become more powerful.

However, in the beginning, the antagonism between the Church and the middle class was not absolute and universal. The mediaeval ideal of the Church only applied to Europe. In the other, parts of the world there were neither traditions nor classes which made the Church wish for a return to the past. The opening up and the exploitation of these regions – “a world-wide” policy – was for the middle class the chief means of getting power and riches. They found in the clergy auxiliaries and clever partners who, while going in for this policy, also increased their power and their influence. In spite of jealous competition, in spite of the passing diversity of methods of domination and exploitation, in spite of all the friction to which this gave rise, yet the Church and the middle class always looked at foreign policy from the same point of view. The same powers which fought bitterly against each other in Europe, helped each other in the Colonies. The missionary became the pioneer of the trader and of the conqueror, and the trader exported bibles as well as spirits. Quite recently we have been able to observe examples of this fact which seems at first so strange. We have seen the same powers – Liberalism and Clericalism – which in Europe are often fighting, help each other abroad. Waldeck Rousseau, who was fighting the religious orders, was at the same time fighting in China for the sake of those very orders whose existence, he said, could not be tolerated in France, and to indemnify them for their losses he gave them several millions of francs, while in France he was threatening them with confiscation of their property.

But if in the Colonies the Church is as revolutionary as the middle class, the latter is no longer so in Europe. It has become Conservative, wishing to maintain the existing state of things, it only seeks to consolidate its power by forming trusts, by going in for an imperial policy, etc. But, as we have already said, the Church has always known how to get on with the ruling classes when she has not aimed at supreme power. Like the nobility, she has made her peace with capitalism, and like the former she tries more and more to make use of capitalistic methods to serve her ends. Without doubt on this point she is like the nobility, and tries to return to the middle age and always does so. As soon as a reactionary class shows that it is opposed to middle class Liberalism, it can rely on the help of the Church. She will always sympathise with those members of the middle class who are opposed to all political and social progress. It can be said, even in Europe, that as the middle class becomes more conservative the hostility of the Church to that class tends to disappear.

The progress of evolution tends to diminish the opposition of these two powers, when its cause is to be found in the international character of the Catholic Church.

This internationalism is an inheritance of the Roman Empire. In the time of the Empire, all the nations which formed part of it, were really one, and there was only one civilisation, having two languages – Latin and Greek. All free men in the Empire, of any race, Syrian or Egyptian, Gaul or Teuton, were Roman citizens. [1] This levelling found its strongest expression in Christianity. For it represented all the new tendencies of the Imperial epoch and developed in opposition to all pagan traditions. This international character became an important source of strength for the Catholic church, when, on the ruins of the Roman Empire of the West new states were formed in which the public power was weak. The international organisation of the Church which accepted the Pope as her ruler, alone prevented the Western states from falling into anarchy and from being conquered by foreigners. At that time the Church saved the civilisation of Europe, and powerful towns, enjoying flourishing commerce and extensive industries, were able to develop. The Church was raising its own adversary. A public national authority, strong at home and abroad, was needed for the middle class. They required a power strong enough to crush the rule of small communities, and able to weld them into a great nation. And a certain amount of credit abroad was needed for that nation, if its territory was to be respected, and it required an extensive market. Ultra-montanism, that is to say, the state of things in which a nation was subjected to the masters of Christianity living on the other side of the Alps (ultra montes), became an object of hatred on the part of the middle class when it was strong enough to stand alone. “Let us break off from Rome” was then the cry. Latin was no longer to be the literary language, nor was it to be the language used in divine service, and the local languages were used; instead of the international Roman church a National religious organization was instituted.

But, in this matter, there is a great difference between the religious orders and the secular clergy. We have already referred to the two forms which communism took in the organs of Christianity. On the one hand, we find a certain number of pious persons who have renounced marriage and the family, and who form a community in a cloister shut out from the remainder of the world; on the other hand, there was a fund – the wealth of the Church which was used for the mass of believers who had not left the world – and it was chiefly used for helping the poor and for certain common objects, as the education of children.

Those who dwelt in convents were the regular clergy – the members of religious orders; the heads and the members of the ordinary clergy were the secular clergy. As the Church developed these two classes became an enormous organism. Their common head was the Pope. As the internationalism of the Church increased, these two classes changed. The secular clergy had important functions to fulfil. This was not the case for the regular clergy. The first had definite functions to perform in a particular place. On the other hand, the different orders had wealth in all countries. The secular priests lived among the people, the regular clergy was excluded. Marriage, the family, that is to say, the formation of family ties with the people, were forbidden to the monk or friar by the very nature of the monastic institution. On the other hand, the functions of the secular clergy went very well with marriage and the family. If, on account of its communism and the ascetic tendency of primitive Christianity, the Church has never reverenced marriage over much, and if celibacy has always been considered better and holier, yet – and especially among the Teutons, who had accepted Christianity – the joy of life has always finished by triumphing and, outside monasteries, communism has had no influence. The marriage of secular priests was a use received in the Catholic Church up to the twelfth century.

It therefore is evident that the religious orders were less under national influences than the secular clergy. It was they who especially became the representatives of the international character of the Church and the defenders of the international power of the popes. The secular clergy, with its immediate chiefs, bishops and archbishops, always made a more stubborn resistance to the papacy and showed more kind feeling to the national powers than the religious orders. In order to make them more independent of their national environment, the popes soon sought to make the seculars celibates as well as the regulars. The great founder of absolute internationalism of the papacy, the Cluniac monk, Gregory VII, succeeded in making the secular clergy celibates, if not chaste. The Reformation, the break off from Rome of various countries, allowed the priests to get married as a set-off against the papal internationalism, if for no other reason. But monasteries were suppressed.

Even in the countries which remained Catholic, the adversaries of the Church made a clear distinction between the secular clergy and the religious orders. It was the latter who were always attacked. The most pious sovereigns quarrelled with them, because they wished them to be subject to the laws of the country. For even in Catholic countries of Europe, the secular clergy has never been under the exclusive rule of the Pope, because the civil power has always had something to say in the appointment of bishops, &c. [2] On the other hand, the papacy has always sought to make the religious orders independent of the bishops, and to make them subject entirely to itself. And in this it has succeeded.

The opposition between the regular clergy and the religious orders also goes on in another field where there is also a struggle between the middle class and the Church – namely in economics. The Church now is a large landowner, and is wealthy, and she thus comes into conflict with two forms of religious property – the feudal form and the capitalist form.

We have already seen the reasons which make the Catholic Church reactionary and enamoured of the traditions of the Middle Age. But she could also seriously hinder the development of the middle class, and still more of capitalism, by protecting working men rather than by retaining the oppressive character of feudalism.

The latter tried to aggravate the judicial dependence of the worker; but as long as the natural economics prevailed, and this was the case in the best epochs of feudalism, no one tried to increase to any extent the work of the working man. The development of civilisation, and the productivity of work brought about in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries [3] an improvement in the labourer’s condition; it was a pleasure to live and let live, and the joy of living was shown in numerous festivals. The Church for a long time was in favour of this, either on account of inertia, which is always stronger in any important mass than in all small groups, or for other reasons. But the growing middle class hated these festivals because they prevented the undue exploitation of the working man.

The Catholic Church not only troubled the middle class by these festivals; her works of charity were also disliked by that class.

We have seen that in the beginning the wealth of the Church was used for common objects-help of the poor and the sick, education of youth, &c. But after a time she no longer cared for these objects. The Church could not definitely deny its origin, for tradition was a great force with her. Though there was a great difference between the soup distributed to the hungry at the doors of monasteries and the gorging banquets given inside to the monks, yet the growing capital wished that famine should occasionally threaten the have-nots when they were not in the workshops being exploited. In the same way, the works of charity, like the festivals, prevented the masters getting as much as they would have liked out of the men. The feudal Church not only injured the middle class by making labour less productive, but it also affected capital. In the pre-capitalist communities, the accumulation of riches assumes two forms – that of landed property, and that of treasures (gold, silver and jewels). These are gathered up in a different way, according to the situation of the possessor, He who is weak hides them, and often buries them for safety. He who is powerful prefers to show them ostentatiously, and thus increase his prestige by appearing important, and in that way he gets new friends and terrifies his foes. The Catholic Church did the same; she was as zealous in increasing her landed property as in amassing treasure which naturally was centred in religious objects – monstrances, stoles, &c. – and she liked to exhibit these riches in her festivals. We have already said how great was the joy of living, how little work was done in feudal times, and this feudal magnificence was one of the causes of the innumerable religious festivals celebrated at that time. Traces of these ceremonies, and of this pomp, still exist in Catholic countries.

The bourgeois hated this accumulation of treasures, which were fixed capital and were not reproductive, especially in those times when capital was as rare as working men. The working men were also opposed to the clergy, but for other reasons – they disliked the clergy, as they did not like exploitation and wealth, but the bourgeois was irritated because this wealth could not be used for capitalist purposes. Besides, measures had been adopted so that these treasures should not be indefinitely extended. The Church had a good appetite; she never died and no heirs could divide her fortune and waste it. She would soon have absorbed all the riches of Christianity if she had not been bled now and then.

From the invasions of the barbarians to Napoleon, the pillage of churches and convents was one of the favourite methods of princes and soldiers for getting a little money. This was largely done during the Reformation. But it was generally lively people who seized these treasures. The precious metals did not stay long in their pocket, they soon circulated among those who have always got the best of things, I mean they became the property of capitalists. Sacrilegious theft under different forms has much increased the primitive accumulation of capital.

Thus, a marked economic antagonism existed between the middle classes and the Church in feudal time. It still exists, in so far as the last is influenced by feudal traditions, but the antagonism is no less apparent where small clerical organisations have known how to adapt themselves to capitalist exploitation. Soon certain clerical forms of capitalism developed themselves. It might even be said that, north of the Alps, monasteries were the first industrial enterprises having capitalist characteristics. It was the Jesuits who first, after the Reformation, succeeded in placing explicitly and scientifically the methods of exploitation of capitalism, commerce, industry, and colonial politics in the service of the Church, or rather of their order, which thus became a dangerous rival of middle-class capitalism. In addition to their riches and their international extension, the charitable institutions of the orders allowed their enterprises to compete successfully in many places with capitalists of the middle classes. Their charities had given them control of the lowest and most backward classes of the proletariat, which was entirely dependent on them, not only economically but also spiritually. By means of them the order could undertake anything. If the works of philanthropy had irritated the middle classes because they kept away the proletariat from paid labour and were to the advantage of the stupid proletariat, still more did the charitable institutions of clerical capitalism annoy the bourgeois. The supply of the cheapest and the quietest workers was taken away from the middle class and was available for the use of their clerical competitors.

Here again the antagonism between the Church and the middle class is different in the case of religious orders and in the case of the secular clergy. The middle class, it is true, is the opponent of the feudal Church, but it is different as regards the Church after feudalism. Clerical capitalism is especially represented by the religious orders. The latter, by their very nature of domestic communities, are also associations for economic co-operation. If they do not derive their revenues from begging they must obtain them by production, and domestic co-operation becomes productive co-operation. The same thing happens in religious as in lay co-operation. As soon as they succeed their members cease to work, and let others do so and exploit them. Under feudal conditions the phenomenon shows feudal forms, under capitalist conditions it shows capitalist forms. Therefore the religious orders, by their very nature, are well adapted to exercise capitalist exploitation. It is different with the secular clergy. The functions they perform and their position makes them officials, and not business men. If, during feudalism, their revenues were formed by tithes and by payment in kind it is because this was the method of production then prevalent; the lay official was paid by receiving the revenue of some fief. The difference between the religious and the lay official was that the latter always wanted his son to succeed him, and that is why we see in feudal times all posts, including royalty, become hereditary. Celibacy did not allow the clergy to do this, or, rather, to prevent it celibacy was enforced on them, though there were also other reasons for this measure.

But when money ruled, and when wages became the rule, then it became natural to pay officials in money instead, and they were thus more dependent on their master. The land gave great security to the feudal official, while the official to-day receives his salary once a month, and he can easily be dismissed. But under the feudal system the official, holding his land, had a tendency to rebel against his liege lord. It is the economic regime based on money which has made a bureaucracy possible, and has thus allowed autocracy to be established. And this applies equally to all other branches of the public service. The army, which was composed of feudal vassals, now becomes an army with paid officers, who must, even in times of peace, obey without question the orders of their superiors, The Princes also applied the same rules to the Church, and the secular priest became a paid official. The Government found this a better system, for not only were the clergy more dependent, but it could appropriate the land, &c., which belonged to the Church.

It was only, however, the secular clergy which thus became officials. This measure could not be applied to religious orders which had no functions, but only formed industrial associations. As far as they were concerned, the Government had either to suppress them or to let them exist as belonging to the Church, but being economically independent, and therefore politically free. Here, again, we see the difference between the secular clergy and the orders which we already noticed when we studied the international character of the Church.

The religious policy of the middle class follows easily from what we have said. Where this class is revolutionary – and it is so as long as it is opposed to the Government – then the middle class is opposed to all the Church, not only to the religious orders but also to the secular clergy, which, being devoted to the Government, tries to keep down those classes which want to rise. But as soon as the bourgeoisie begins to rule it tries to obtain all means of power, and does not then wish to diminish the influence of the Church on the people. It no longer seeks to hinder bureaucracy and militarism; it gets on well with the secular clergy, but the religious orders are in its way. It is no longer the whole Church which must be crushed but only that portion of the Church which is free and independent. This attitude, how ever is more historical than practical, and tends to disappear, for as capital becomes more international the international character of the Church is less dangerous than before. The, Church has known how to adapt herself to the economic exigencies of capital. The number of festivals has been considerably reduced, even in the most Catholic counties. The works of charity are no longer in the way, capital has enough workers now, and it even looks on with pleasure at these Churches as they require capitalists to give less than otherwise.

The capitalist class no longer looks with envy on the treasures of the Church. Capital has increased to such an extent that the wealth of the Church is relatively small. The accumulation of capital proceeds so rapidly that the capitalist class no longer finds it necessary to confiscate clerical wealth, and capital no longer fears the commercial competition of the religious orders. This does not take place in the manufacture of wholesale commodities, but only in the production of non-important specialities, as liqueurs for example, or in backward industries where domestic production still rules.

On the other hand the proletariat increases in number and in strength and becomes more and more threatening. So the middle classes are not eager to damage institutions which work for its power. Religion, they say, is necessary for the people, and the will and the strength of conducting an energetic struggle against the Church disappears more and more.

Yet now and then there is at struggle. In another place I have noticed that one of the characteristics of the middle class is to rule without governing, and without exercising the functions of a ruling class. It leaves this to the other classes which it has created specially for that purpose, or which have come over to its side, and which act with it.

To the first belong journalists, professors, and officials; to the last officers and priests. But every important organ always tends to become independent, to look upon itself as an end, and to revolt at times against those who only use it as a means to attain their end. The means of the power of the middle class are rising against their master. It is the Catholic Church which shows the least subordination, this is due to her traditions, to her reactionary sympathy, to her power; and the religious orders, which are the strongest and the more independent part, are always in the first rank. But one must not be disturbed by the noise that these quarrels bring about; these are family quarrels. Each side requires the other and they cannot be separated. These struggles are only awkward for third parties-for the fighting proletariat if it thinks the quarrel is serious and bases new tactics on it.

To induce the proletariat to fight side by side with the middle class in a new “Kulturkampf” [4] is to mislead the revolutionary impulsion of the proletariat, and to dissipate with profit its revolutionary force. To say that a quarrel between the bourgeoisie and the Church is as a great action which will save the world, will be to concentrate all the force of the proletariat in a struggle which can lead to nothing and will be useless. The middle class cannot carry on the struggle against the Church to victory; it is a conservative force quite incapable of a revolutionary act which it cannot accomplish with success as a revolutionary force.

The middle class and the proletariat cannot form an alliance for the struggle against the Church. The class position of the proletariat requires quite a different religious policy to that of the middle class, and this we shall now discuss.


(Translated by Jacques Bonhomme.)

(To be continued)


1. This strikingly illustrates the superiority of the Roman Empire over the British Empire. Fancy considering a native of Bengal or of Zululand as an equal of a Cockney. – J.B.

2. M. Combes, the French Prime Minister, in a speech to the Senate recently, showed however since Charlemagne in the ninth century the French Government has claimed to have a voice in the appointment of bishops. – J.B.

3. Thorold Rogers called this the Golden Age of labour. – J.B.

4. The name given to the dispute between Bismarck and the Catholics.



Part 3


Amongst the classes which form modern society, the proletariat occupies a peculiar position. It is the lowest class, it does not rule over any other, it cannot in the economic order rise above any other. If it obtains political power, it can only use it by abolishing classes and suppressing itself as a class. It cannot use it to establish a new class rule in place of the old. It therefore seeks political power to get rid of class rule, and not to use it for its own advantage. In so far, and we have already said so in our first article, it is the opponent of the Church, which in itself constitute one of the means of power.

But the Church does not stop at that action. The religion which she teaches is still much thought of by many millions. As a lower class whose liberty of opinion and liberty of conscience are impeded by the other classes, the proletariat must be in favour of unlimited religious liberty, and must allow every man to go to heaven in his own way. It would contradict its historic mission, which proceeds from its situation in society, if it tried to prevent the mass of Clericals from following out in their own way their religious needs. In so far the Social-Democracy must be neutral as far as the Church is concerned. But how is this attitude to be reconciled with its antagonism to the latter, considered as a means of domination?

This problem not only concerns the Church. There are other institutions which are to-day the means by which certain classes rule, but they have other functions which make them necessary, at all events for some time to come. Bureaucracy is an example of this, as it is an excellent means of ruling the masses and as such we fight against it. But there is not at the present time any great social organism which can be administered by a dilettante after he has done his usual professional labours. He needs experienced administrators, in other words a bureaucracy, and even a Socialist State could not do without a system of officials. We should have to take away from them all the characteristics which make them a special class placed above the mass of the population. We must take away the privileges from the officials and make them really and not nominally the servants of the people, who must have the right of choosing and of sending away the officials. We must develop local self-government in opposition to centralisation, which likes to rule from top to bottom. The middle class cannot do it, though the Radicals often talk about it. They need officials to help them to rule, and so they place them over the people; they make a demi-god of every policeman, they encourage the pride of officials, they are glad that the central authority should rule over local authorities however inconvenient it may be. It is only under the proletariat that a true democracy can be realised.

It is the same with militarism. The proletariat must tend to suppress the army. It is true that it is a means of keeping the people under the yoke, but they cannot unfortunately do without it; it is a means of defence against outside enemies, especially against the Eastern enemies. Here again the problem cannot be solved by simply suppressing the army. We must abolish the privileges which the officers enjoy; we cannot disarm the nation and we must arm the people. Only a proletarian rule can accomplish this task in spite of the writings of Novicov and Suttner, for the middle class needs the army to maintain its supremacy. The lamentable conclusion of the Dreyfus affair has shown what the passing enthusiasm of the middle class about the army is worth.

The case is the same for the Church; the Socialist democracy cannot and should not dream of oppressing the Churches. It must follow the same policy with reference to them as it does in the case of the army and of the bureaucracy. It is necessary first of all to put a stop to the privileges enjoyed by the clergy on the remainder of humanity (as, for instance, the privileges recognised in paragraphs 166, 167 and 196 of the German Penal Code). The Church also has other privileges, for the State puts its schools at her disposal so that she may teach there her doctrines, that she may train youth in her ideas and her practices, and the State even forces children to receive this teaching.

In France, the Church has not got this privileged situation, but the clergy enjoy, however, an exceptional position in that country. They are paid by the State, though they do not fulfil public functions; and the middle classes do not object. The same orators who painted in the blackest colours the nefarious influence of the religious orders, praised the secular clergy, which yet has the same ideas and spreads them among the people. That same Chamber ,which gave the Government the right of dissolving non-authorised religious orders, yet voted quietly a budget of 40 millions (of francs) for the Catholic clergy and the maintenance of the Vatican embassy. Though the French State is free-thinking, yet it makes free-thinkers pay priests and bishops, and it treats the Pope with sovereign honours.

The Social-Democracy is opposed to the ideal of the middle class, which wishes to transform the Church into a Government office and the priest into a public official. The Social-Democracy wishes the priest to become a simple citizen and the Church to be an ordinary association. The middle class wishes to incorporate the Church with the State, the Social-Democracy wishes to separate the Church from the State.

It is wrong to pretend that Belgium warns us of the dangers of this separation. In that country the Church is independent of the State, but the State is under the dependence of the Church. The State has nothing to do with the Church, but the latter has a great deal to say in the affairs of the State. The clergy are paid, and they cost about six millions of francs a year to the State. It is not in Belgium, but in the United States, that the separation of Church and State has become a reality for the great good of both parties.

But even there separation is not complete, “for in New Hampshire Protestants only can fill the highest places; in Maryland only Christians and Jews; in Pennsylvania, in North Carolina, in Mississippi, and in Tennessee only those who believe in God and in the immortality of the soul can be officials. There are laws against church brawling, sabbath-breaking and blasphemy (Ruttimann, Das Nord Amerikanische Bundesstaatsrecht, II., pp.269-270). So that even in the United States the Church still has privileges, but these are, of course, small compared to those which she still enjoys in Europe.

The International Social-Democracy is unanimous in advocating this religious policy, in so far as it applies to the secular clergy. But there are differences of opinion when the question of how far they should be applied to the religious orders, is under consideration. Should religious orders have the same right of association as we want? Or should we put in force against them exceptional legislation?

One can understand the proletarian point of view in such a way that one accepts the middle-class tactics as applied to religious orders, though one demands that logically and deliberately all its consequences should be drawn from it. This is indeed the historical part to be played by the proletariat, as long as it has not a special class policy. As an inferior class which is not hindered by any social consideration, as a fraction of the democracy, the proletariat must see that Liberalism carries out its principles to their fullest extent. The proletariat followed this part unconsciously in the great Revolution, and Marx wished it to follow the same policy consciously in Germany in 1848. It is curious to see Socialism corning back to these tactics, which Lassalle thought to be impossible in Germany in 1860, in France where the traditions of the French Revolution continue to exercise so powerful an action, where the religious orders have become fighting organisations on the side of reaction. The Socialists want to overthrow the Liberals, not only by the quality of the fight waged against them, but still more by the vigour of the fight, and in that country we must demand the dissolution of the orders, and the confiscation of their property.

The situation is different in Germany, therefore the attitude of the Social-Democracy with reference to religious orders is not the same. It is opposed to any check on the liberty of association, even for religious purposes. In my opinion, these tactics are more in accord with our principles, and answer better to the situation which the proletariat occupies as a class. Any measure directed against this liberty must touch directly or indirectly more the proletariat than the religious orders. This point may appear of little interest to the middle class, but Social-Democrats should think twice before giving such power to the Government.

We often think of these points when we have to fight against certain alliances formed by our fiercest enemies, as the cartels and the trusts.

(To be continued)



Part 4


You cannot hinder religious bodies, or place them under the control of the State without at the same time threatening trade unions, which are institutions formed to raise the price of labour above the prevailing market rate. A law which is to injure unions of masters and associations of workers, will be more vigorously applied to the latter than to the former, which will be able more easily to evade it. This also applies to the struggle against the religious orders; if a law is made to be used against them, then it is argued that it is right to legislate against unpopular political opponents, and these to-day may be Anarchists, and to-morrow may be Social Democrats. The laws against the Catholic Clergy preceded the laws aimed at the Socialists. It may also be argued that the ordinary law should apply to religious orders, and then they are not allowed to form associations; but this may be argued when other persons are concerned.

Why should this dangerous path be pursued? We are told that religious orders are a source of great danger, and certainly in some States they have become very rich. But in capitalist countries their wealth is relatively small compared to the riches of capitalists. The orders may be dangerous from an economic point of view in poor and backward countries, as Spain, whose development they hinder. There the old method, the dissolution of orders, the confiscation of their wealth may have an excellent, even a necessary use. But in a nation where capitalist production has developed, the economic influence of these orders is much less than that exercised by the large monopolies of the capitalist class. The railway monopolists in France exercise far more power on the economic life of France, and the nationalisation of these railways would have a much greater economic effect than all the confiscation of the wealth of the religious orders. It is estimated that the wealth of the religious orders is, £40,000,000, while the capital sunk in the French railways is estimated at £620,000,000. No doubt Social-Democracy, which aims at the socialisation of the means of production, will not stop at the property of the religious orders. But we believe that property is ripe for socialisation according to its functions in the process of production and not according to the nature of its proprietors. It is evident that we do not think of socialising at once all the means of production. We shall begin by great monopolies, railways, mines, large landed estates, trusts, without making any distinction between the different kinds of capitalists. On the other hand it would be absurd to wish to effectuate the passage to Socialist production in expropriating one after the other the different capitalists without considering the nature of their capital. It would be ridiculous to confiscate the property of the religious orders to-day and to-morrow those of the Jews.

Very few people now attack the religious orders on account of their producing wealth. They are more dangerous by the way in which they employ the revenue of their riches and by the moral influence which they exercise on account of their schools and charities.

It is quite true that they help to strengthen reaction, but it is an open question whether methods of violence are a good way of suppressing or even of moderating their action. If the religious orders gain in that way considerable and increasing influence, the fault is less that of the religious orders than of the middle-class State. They have only been able to obtain this influence because it has grossly neglected its duties. Is it the fault of the religious orders if, at the present time in France, there are nearly two million children, nearly a third of the children, receiving education at the hands of religious orders? It is only fair to say that since the war of 1870 France has made a series of heroic efforts to reform elementary education, and its scholastic system is in many ways superior to that of Prussia which is so praised. But in no walk of life can the middle-class State accomplish anything decisive. Let the cost of teaching be paid by the State instead of by the local authority, let the schoolmasters be well trained, let children be given a good meal once a day and clothed, and the State will have done more for diminishing the influence of the Church on the school and on the population than by expelling a few nuns from the schools.

We can do nothing more against the religious orders. If private schools are not conducted under conditions of hygiene applicable to public schools, and if in schools of religious orders children are exploited, we should say nothing if such schools were closed. On the contrary, every Social-Democrat must approve and support the most stringent rules for the protection of children against influence hurtful from an educational point of view. But it is another matter if some kinds of associations are prohibited, and also to exclude them from schools and to expel their members. The same Government which will not allow certain religious orders to teach because they embarrass it, has punished Socialist teachers because they criticised the army or carried on a Socialist propaganda outside the school. Let us take care not to make teachers the passive slaves of Government. Skill in teaching, and not public opinion, must alone give or refuse the right of teaching. The middle-class State considers the schools especially as a means of power; the teacher in a religious order is hateful to it, not because he degrades the people, but because he is independent. It punishes Socialist teachers more severely than the members of insubordinate religious orders. It pays the priest for teaching to the children in church the same things which the religious teacher was saying in the school. The middle-class State has no intention of destroying clerical influence over the people by making the lay school more perfect, and by paying itself the charges which are paid by the local districts. For this educational policy costs money, and a middle-class State cannot get the necessary means if it will persevere in militarism, and is opposed to any tax seriously affecting the rich. A Government which has among its members General André and M. Rouvier can only show its love of progress in questions of education by quarrelling with some obstinate nuns.

The same thing is true of charitable institutions. Here the failure of the middle-class State is so evident, and its reluctance to grapple with the question is so great, that it does not even try to make people believe that, on this ground, it will show that religious orders are useless by founding lay asylums. Without doubt a public institution insuring the worker sufficiently against want of work and incapacity to labour, a large development of public charity, by adequate relief, would completely paralyse the action of the orders, and would considerably diminish their influence on the population. But here again, the middle-class State has no money for this object, and instead of spending money for poor and sick workers, the free-thinkers and freemasons of Republican France prefer to abandon them to the religious orders.

Historic reasons allow us to understand why the majority of French Socialists wish to fight the religious orders by violently suppressing them. But the German Social-Democracy has good reasons for following another policy as far as Catholic orders are concerned; it has always opposed any measure directed against them. It knows very well that the middle-class State can only fight them by using violence, the use of force only increases the arms which the Government possesses against its opponents – and consequently against the proletariat which tries to rise. And at the same time the power of the Church does not at all diminish. The German Social-Democracy has always adhered to the principle upheld in the time of the “Kulturkampf,” and its programme says

“Religion is a private affair. No public money to be spent on religion. Religious or ecclesiastical communities are private institutions which manage their affairs as they please.”

Now, when we are fighting the Catholic Centre, it will be necessary to tell Catholic workers what we did during the “Kulturkampf.” But, unfortunately, the Reichstag Handbook of Schippel has little of use on this point. Speaking of the “Anti-Jesuit” law, the action of the Centre is analysed, but as far as the Socialists are concerned, we only find this: “Here, as always, the party opposed all coercion laws.” And speaking of the paragraph referring to sermons, nothing is said about our party.

The “Kulturkampf,” however, showed clearly that the policy followed by the Social-Democrats was right. Events have justified it in every way.

(To be continued)



Part 5


Bebel, in 1873, in a pamphlet wrote as follows:- “If, in spite of all, the struggle between the government and the Clergy is not serious, because it is to the interest of both parties not to go too far, yet we must absolutely reject the means by which it is sought to fight Clericalism ... There is only one means open to the middle class and to the Government, but neither is willing to use the only means of stopping Clerical reaction, and that is the separation of the school from the Church, of the Church from the State, and the greatest improvement of elementary education; instead of this the Government uses violence against Clerical opposition which is becoming troublesome.

“This is the reason why Liberals and the Government are in favour of coercion, and in doing this they talk as Governments always do of liberty, of order, and of the public good. Coercion law against the Clergy, expulsion of Jesuits, &c., have all been adopted by the Reichstag, to the great joy of the Liberals, except a few who still have a certain ideal. The result will be that ultramontanism, which already has 60 seats in the Reichstag, will, in the next Parliament, have 40 or 50 more supporters.”

This prophecy was fulfilled, and also that which predicted a lamentable end to the “Kulturkampf,” and the fall of Bismarck. We recommend these two points to those who are always collecting the predictions of Bebel which did not take place. The attitude observed by the German Social-Democracy during the “Kulturkampf,” has already been fruitful; it will become still more so after our propaganda among Catholic workers. This propaganda be our chief task in the fight with Clericalism.

If the latter is increasing the cause is not due to the infernal talents of the religious orders, against which we should be powerless. We must seek the cause in the evolution of social conditions favourable to them, but this evolution is not only advantageous to them, but also to us. The conditions are only unfavourable to middle-class Liberalism, and there is no police measure in the world which can stop the process.

On the other hand, the decadence of the middle classes (lower middle class and peasants) increases the power of the Church. Two centuries ago, these classes were decaying, but under an absolute monarchy they considered the cause of their misery, and rightly for the most part, to be due to the exploitation of the court, the bureaucracy, the nobility and the clergy. These classes were then mainly Liberal, and expected everything from the victory of democracy. But Liberalism only unchained capitalism, and after a short transitory stage it caused more misery to the lower middle-class and to the peasants. Liberalism was not the saviour it promised to be, and these classes sought for another ;with anguish and with eagerness, and they have taken to the Church. This especially applies to the lower middle-class of the towns, for the peasants have never emancipated themselves from the influence of the Church.

It is quite true that the leaders of the Republican democracy cannot accomplish their aims, and they cannot keep their promises. Sooner or later they will be seen to be either foolish or intriguers. But we should make a mistake if we thought that the lower middle class would soon cease to have confidence in reaction. Only the lay elements, those who are influenced by the traditions of free thought of the revolutionary epoch, are getting played out and either give place to Clericals or submit to them. The Church has an experience of a thousand years, it has a mechanism which can subdue reason, and it can always offer Heaven if the earth is poor, and for these reasons it is well fitted to lend as help to misery without hope, whether it be moral or economic. The lay leaders of anti-Semitism and of Nationalism may be quickly used up, but it does not follow that these movements are losing ground. They only lose more and more the characteristic features of Liberal democracy and become more and more purely Clerical movements.

But even among the middle class Clericalism is gaining ground. Here it is not the economic decadence of this class, but the political progress accomplished by the proletariat which makes the middle class esteem the Church. Some look upon it as a means of keeping the masses in check. On the other hand, in finer and better organised natures, as our comrade Roland Holst has said, the inevitable progress of the proletariat call forth a kind of disposition towards mysticism. These tendencies are increased by the ruin of the Liberal conception which answered to their proper situation as a class, often also after having prematurely enjoyed all sensual pleasures, these men seek new sensations in mysticism. No institution can fulfil this better than the Catholic Church. It can do it better than Protestantism, in which the middle-class man of the north has symbolised his sensuality and his gross materialism. The epoch of the Reformation was very favourable to mysticism. The devil and witches terrified and tortured men, but this business is too primitive and too childish to catch the man of to-day. It is quite different with Catholic mysticism, whose origins go back to the decadence of Imperial Rome.

The charm of Catholic mysticism is heightened still more by the pomp of ritual, We have seen that this richness had its source in the economic conditions of feudalism ; it was born naturally, and was not intentionally invented by hypocrite priests to dazzle and seduce men. It is not in this childish way that great social phenomena are produced which have lasted for a thousand years. But once it is instituted, religious pomp startles and delights; it answers to the need of the masses for material beauty and physical emotion, and in certain circumstances it agrees with the pleasure felt by the exploiting classes in mad extravagance when the degree of exploitation has attained a certain development.

The capitalist régime has already arrived at this point for some little time past. Capitalists pretended even ten years ago that capitalism was created by saving and by abstinence, and believed that it fostered all the domestic virtues; but now they do not know what to do with the enormous mass of riches which are produced by the modern systematic exploitation. This not only applies to what we see in Germany, but is equally true of England and of the United States. The mad extravagance of Imperial Rome and of old monarchical France begins to prevail among capitalists, but they are poor hands at it. They know how to throw money out of the window, but they do not know how to spend it elegantly.

Catholicism answers better to this desire of pomp than Protestantism, whose origin goes back to the time when the middle class looked on feudal luxury as capital sinfully wasted which might have been productively employed, and when it was believed that puritan simplicity was alone pleasing to God. It is not by chance, that as soon as capitalist exploitation had passed a certain limit in England, there arose a movement in the Anglican Church (towards 1840) which, under the name of Ritualism, copied some of the ceremonies of the Catholic Church, and now it is sometimes difficult to see wherein it differs from that Church, except that its head is the King of England and not the Pope.

We cannot attack these factors which make the Church the friend of the middle-class. The Church will see its power and its influence grow. Improved public education would do nothing, for we see many learned men become Catholics and many scientific persons are spiritualists. Mysticism, and the need of religious authority, depend much less on the state of knowledge than on the state of society. When social reality only offers to a class or to society a desperate future, these try to forget realities by taking refuge in the thought of a better hereafter. The degree of development which the natural sciences have attained only determines the form which is taken by the phenomenon. The human mind is sufficiently rich to find a plausible foundation to each of its needs.

But the credit of the Church not only grows in the classes of which we have spoken, its influence extends in many spheres which belong to the proletariat. The phenomenon, no doubt, assumes a different aspect. It is not that important fractions of the proletariat which had hitherto been outside the Church, come back and become pious. No symptom can be seen anywhere of this return, for the workman has no reason to doubt the future of his class. It goes from victory to victory, and there is no worker who, having understood the situation of his class and becoming conscious of its mission, finds it necessary to leave off studying realities and trying to attain them in order to obtain some fantastic advantage in a hypothetical hereafter. The hopes and the joys of the worker are in this world.

But if the number of workers still following the direction of the Clericals increases, it is not because the clergy have succeeded anywhere in detaching them from Socialism, but the reason is on account of the rapid increase of the proletariat. Many new comers still accept the authority of the Church because they come from classes or places where the clergy still rules or rules again the minds of men. The improvement in methods of communication, the ruin of peasant proprietors, combine in attracting to the towns many workers who are still in a backward state. Moreover, the desire to have at their disposal large masses of cheap labour or raw material and the development taken by mines have caused capitalist industry to extend more and more into the country in places still entirely under Clerical influence.

It is a difficult problem to convert these new strata of the proletariat to Socialism, but it must and can be solved. However powerful the traditions are which attach this new proletariat to the reactionary classes and to reactionary ideas, in which it has grown up, the struggles for its interests in the present are driving it into the proletarian camp, and the past will be conquered by the present. But to hasten this process, to give to the class struggle into which it has entered qualities of conscience and of unity, the Proletariat must have confidence in the Social-Democracy. It alone can co-ordinate these struggles and gather up in one whole the isolated efforts of workers, seeking to defend themselves, who are acting to progress by most diverse ways and means. We shall not obtain this confidence by asking the State for coercive measures against the Church, for the proletariat as an inferior class has an instinctive horror against all oppression and accords its warmest sympathies to all the oppressed, to any nation or religious community which has nothing in common with its class interests The Catholic Church knows this very well; she complains of being oppressed even when she enjoys important privileges and where she suppresses all freedom of opinion. Yet she can only succeed in posing as a martyr where she has been coerced, though this may have been trifling. Bismarck’s “Kulturkampf” did her a very good turn. Then a propaganda can be carried on among the workers just as if it were a real persecution, and really the coercion does not harm her much because the middle-class measures were only half-measures. She really gains more from a moral point of view than she loses from a material point of view.

It is Bismarck’s “Kulturkampf” which gave to the Centre the control of the workers in Catholic Prussia, where that party has now its most docile followers, and the “Kulturkampf” now going on in France will not have less important results, or, if it does, it will be simply because up till now it is much less important than that of Bismarck.

The Social-Democracy must take care, however, not to create Catholic martyrs, nor to be the ally of powers who are the implacable foes of the proletariat – I mean bureaucracy and capitalism. Everywhere these powers are opposed to the workers who try to rise. It is also true that what often appears to be Clericalism in the workers is often the simple class hatred against the Liberal middle class and the Liberal Party. We should compromise completely our position if we were to ally ourselves with officials and with the freethinking middle class, and if, instead of preaching the class war, we were to advocate the “Kulturkampf.” It is better to show them that the class war is stronger than any difference in religious matters. We must not increase but diminish the interest which they take in religious or theological question, in concentrating their attention on the problems of material life. We must show there that the Catholic worker or the Catholic is often nearer to the freethinking worker than the freethinking middle-class man; we must also show them that it is with the latter that the clergy, secular or regular (who really belong to the possessing and ruling classes), have more points of contact than with the worker, however pious he may be.

It is therefore clear that from a propagandist point of view we arrive at the same result as if we started from our principles. The religious policy of the Social-Democracy must differ completely from that of Liberalism, and it has every reason to let this be publicly known that its religious policy is quite different. It must not be compromised in the eyes of the mass of the workers who are still Christians by appearing not to be distinguished from bankrupt Liberalism, not by its nature, but only by its absence of scruples. Liberalism no longer exists for the poorer classes. Their members, worn out by pain and work, thought that they might obtain happiness and liberty in a Liberal State. They celebrated Liberalism as a liberator, and began to turn aside from the Church which had remained faithful to the old feudal exploitation. But Liberalism did not keep its promises; it freed the labouring classes from old restraints, but established new chains which were harder to bear, and it no longer offers a great end to classes who desire freedom. It can only give them statistical tables proving the increase of wealth, and the masses turn aside from it and seek for help in the old religion.

Socialism alone can oppose this reaction successfully. The goal which it seeks can be shown to be a good ideal for the oppressed and exploited classes, an ideal which raises them and excites their enthusiasm, and this the more because it is only held in so far as it is real, not because one is in despair, because it is based on the necessity of the victory of the proletariat, and not on the necessity of renunciation, because it preaches the energetic conquest of this earth and not the patient waiting for a future life. This alone can ruin the power exercised by the clergy on vast masses of the workers. Liberalism can do nothing.

It is not only by the greatness of its ideal, it is by its unity of views, by its bold and deliberate march towards a goal which is known and tenaciously followed, that Social-Democracy is differentiated from a confused, timid, hesitating, and emasculated Liberalism.

Therefore, let us avoid the errors of Liberals, and do not let us mix ourselves with them, for we should be sterilising the sources of our strength, and we should take away all value from our propaganda, and only obtain in exchange doubtful practical advantages. What we have said is applicable to all our policy, and, therefore, to our religious policy. We must have a policy of our own, which must be a Socialist one, and which can have nothing in common with Liberalism.

Karl Kautsky


Transcriber’s note

1*. The following pieces by Kautsky were published in 1903 and 1904 in the Social Democrat, organ of the British Social Democratic Federation where leading Socialists in all countries were asked their views about the conflict between religion and socialism with the main focus on the Roman Catholic Church. This symposium on Religion and Politics, which ran for several months is somewhat unbalanced. There are often, short, half a page, and not particularly interesting pieces such as those by Iglesias and Quelch (the latter a leading member of the British SDF) but there is long article of over 13,000 words by Kautsky which is continued in five parts, pp.161-169, pp.234-243, pp.288-91, pp.359-362 and pp.430-436 in successive issues of the magazine. Other contributors on Religion included August Bebel, Paul Lafargue and Belfort Bax.


Last updated on 20.1.2004