Rosa Luxemburg

An anti-clerical policy of Socialism


First Published: (in French) in Le Mouvement socialiste, 1 January 1903 (in response to a questionnaire).
Source: The Social Democrat, August 1903.
Transcription/Markup: Adam Buick/B. Baggins.
Copyleft: Luxemburg Internet Archive ( 2004. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

I. The Church under the Monarchy and under the Republic

When one speaks of an anti-clerical policy of Socialism, it is evident that it is not intended to attack religious convictions from a Socialistic point of view. The religion of the masses will only completely disappear with the society of today, when man, instead of being dominated by the social process, will dominate it and consciously direct it. This sentiment grows less and less as the masses, educated by Socialism, begin to understand social evolution.

That “religion is a private affair“ only compels us to be neutral and not to take part in religious questions, when these only refer to intimate convictions and to the conscience. But this rule has another meaning, it not only constitutes a directing principle which should determine the proper conduct of Socialists, but it is an appeal addressed to the actual State. In the name of liberty of conscience, we demand the abolition of all public privileges which believers enjoy to the disadvantage of unbelievers, and we will assail all efforts attempted by the Church to become a dominating power in the State. It is not here a matter of conviction but of politics, and in this point the Socialist Parties of different countries can, according to circumstances, adopt very different tactics.

Germany and France have adopted a diametrically opposite policy. In Germany, not only has the Social-Democracy not co-operated with the Kulturkampf of 1870 and 1880, not only does it intervene regularly in favour of the return of the Jesuits; but our party takes little part in the propaganda, declaring that religion is a private affair, asking the suppression of all payment of public money to ecclesiastical purposes. No doubt in legislative assemblies we vote against all credit for those purposes, but there is no propaganda for this purpose, either in meetings, or in the press or in Parliament. German Social-Democracy shows great reserve, not only in matters affecting religious opinions but also in religious politics, just as in practice there is no Republican propaganda, though every Socialist is naturally a Republican. It is impossible that such tactics should be observed in France with reference to Clericalism. It is true that the conditions are absolutely different in the two countries. In Germany the majority of the clergy are Protestants, in France they are Catholics. No doubt there are Catholics in Germany, but they are not in the majority, and ten years ago they were persecuted. The Bismarckian Kulturkampf naturally gave rise to a sort of alliance between Socialists and Catholics, who were attacked at the same time and for the same reactionary reason by means of laws of persecution. But now it is the contrary, and the Ultramontanes are in power; but they have succeeded in doing this as a political party, and not as a church. Therefore Social-Democracy can attack them, not as representing a particular faith, but as Parliamentary representatives of taxes on food, on militarism, and of imperialism. The fundamental difference is due to the political form. However reactionary the influence of the Church may be on public life, its importance is very different if this takes place in a monarchy or in a republic.

In a monarchy the Church, which is essentially monarchical as an arbitrary doctrine, enters in the mechanism of the State without destroying its harmony. In that sense it is not an independent political power. On the other hand, the monarchy, which derives its own authority from the same source as the Church, which also comes from heaven, has less trouble in conquering the Church if she interferes in public life. And, whatever be the docility and the obsequiousness of the Protestant clergy, it is characteristic that the German Emperor had to proclaim a few years ago, on an unimportant occasion, that he would not allow the clergy to take part in politics.

In Italy there is a struggle between the Quirinal and the Vatican, which appears to contradict what we have just said, but here it is not really a rivalry between the Monarchy and the Church, but a rivalry between two secular sovereigns one reigning, the other having lost his power. Russia affords us another striking example of how the Church, though the form may be different, yet gives help to the public authority of a monarchy.

For these same reasons the Church, considered as an organ of public opinion, appears at first sight to be an element of dissolution in republican France – an opponent by instinct of the fundamental principles of the Republic ” appointment by election of all the powers of the State and sovereignty of the people. The Church opposed to the middle-class [1] principles of a purely secular power, driven by her own spirit, and by personal relations which connect her with the aristocracy, and give her a feudal character, a survival of the monarchical past, she tended naturally as an organ of the State to claim for herself political independence, and posed as an adversary of the Republic. The struggle against clericalism is like a red thread, which is always seen in the course of the history of the middle-class Republic in France. While the Church seizes the schools step by step, to use them as an arm against the Republic, the latter becomes exhausted in vain efforts to overcome the opposition, and to recover from the periodical crises which overwhelm it.

In France the part played by the Church, and the part played by the army, offer a great number of points of resemblance. We wrote the following more than a year ago in the Neue Zeit, about the Dreyfus affair and the Socialistic crisis:

“The Third Republic has developed to a point in which it offers us the most perfect type of a middle-class Government; but, at the same time, it has developed contradictions of its own. One of these fundamental contradictions is due to the existence of a Republic founded on the authority of a middle-class Parliament and of a numerous standing army which are needed to carry out a Colonial and Imperialist policy. While in a strong monarchy the army, with its caste-like spirit, is simply a docile instrument in the hands of the Executive, in a Republic it tends to become an independent power, only joined by fragile bonds to the other parts of the State which, in a Parliamentary Republic, is ruled by civilians who constantly change and whose supreme chief may be and is a former tanner or an eloquent lawyer.

“The social evolution of France, which the policy of interests followed by the middle class has driven to such a point that this class is split into isolated groups, which without the slightest feeling of responsibility have made of the Government and of Parliament the plaything of their particular interests, and this evolution on the other hand has made the army independent. Instead of being an instrument in the hands of the public authorities, it has become a group with its own interests, and is ready to defend its privileges without thinking of the Republic, in spite of the Republic, and even against the Republic.

“The antagonism between the Parliamentary Republic and the standing army can only be solved by the return of the army to the civil society, and by the organisation of civil society as an army. The army must no longer have for its object Colonial conquests and must only think of the defence of the nation.

“In one word the standing army must be replaced by a militia. As long as this is not done, the internal contradiction will manifest itself by periodical crises, by struggles between the Republic and its own army, struggles in which are shown the independence of that institution, its corruption and its want of discipline. The Wilson affair, the Panama and the Southern Railways scandals, had their counterpart in the Dreyfus affair.”

The analogy of the situation occupied by the army and by the Church towards the Republic has brought about a closer union between these two powers and has given a monarchical colouring to all the later political crises which have occurred in France. Every time these two organs of the Republic have been united in their revolt.

And just as the contradiction between the army and the Republic can only be solved by the transformation of the standing army into a militia, the contradiction between the Catholic Church and the Republic can only disappear when the Church shall have ceased to be a public institution and shall have become a private institution, that is to say, when the Church shall have been separated from the State, when the clergy shall havebeen driven from the schools and from the army, and when the property of the religious orders shall have been confiscated.

The Social-Democracy does not ask the partial confiscation of capitalist property by the middle-class State, but that is not because it is in principle an opponent of these confiscations. In cases where we ask for the socialisation of an industry, of that of the railways for example, we should not object if this measure took place simply by confiscation. If this be not one of our desiderata, if we do not ask only in certain cases that the State should take over an industry, it is because this working of an industry by the State would not alter the capitalist character of property and, indeed, in some cases it increases the power of a reactionary State. Even when this fear is not justified, as in Switzerland, such a demand addressed to a middle-class government is really utopian.

But Social-Democracy is only more justified in demanding that the middle-class State should put an end to mediaeval forms of property. The “dead hand“ is certainly one of these. For all functions which used to be filled by it, as care of the poor, the sick, the school, all these functions belong at present to the modern State. But clerical property, now free from its obligation, only represents now in middle-class society a survival from feudal times. Any middle-class revolution that was faithful to its duties should confiscate the possessions of the Church. The Socialists, in advocating this measure in France, demanded at the same time a secular education, and are compelling the middle-class Republicans to carry out their principles.

If the French comrades wished to carry on in their country the German tactics which relate to other circumstances, and to abstain from taking part in the political struggle engaged in for the last thirty years between the Republic and the Church, if they said that all these quarrels did not interest them, they would condemn themselves and would have no influence in practical politics.

II. Socialist and Middle-Class Anti-Clericalism

The Socialists have to fight against the Church which is an anti-Republican and reactionary power, not to agree with middle class anti-clericalism, but to get rid of it. The incessant guerrilla warfare waged for the last ten years against the priests is for French middle-class Republicans one of the best ways of turning away the attention of the working-class from social questions, and of weakening the class struggle. Anti-clericalism is also the only cause of the existence of the Radical Party; the evolution over the last 30 years and the rise of Socialism have made that Partys programme useless.

For the middle-class parties, the struggle against the State is not really a means but an end in itself, it is carried on in such a way that it will never attain the object; it is thought that it will go on for ever and thus become a permanent institution. What we have just said, shows that Socialists must not be satisfied in following the middle-class anti-clericals, they are their adversaries and they must be unmasked by the war against the Church.

What distinguishes the anti-clerical aim of Socialism from that of the middle-class, is not only the extent and the greater decision of its programme, but also the starting point which is quite different. The designedly hopeless campaign that middle-class Republicans are engaged in for the last 30 years against the Church takes a particular character; they will divide artificially into two different questions, a problem which, politically, is one and indivisible; they will say that the secular clergy and the regular clergy are different, and they try to ignore the religious orders – though this is difficult while they will not see that the real question is the separation of Church and State. Instead of cutting the Gordian knot at one blow, by suppressing the budget of public worship and all the administrative functions entrusted to the clergy and by confiscating the wealth of the religious orders, they only attack the non-authorised orders. Instead of separating the Church from the State, they try, on the contrary, to connect the religious orders with the State. Whilst they appear to take the schools away from the religious orders, no real blow is struck against the Church because it is still recognised as a State institution. The attitude of the Waldeck-Rousseau Ministry is typical on this question. So it is quite false to say that these pitiable, anti-clerical measures of Radical Ministries and of the Parliamentary majority are the beginning of wider reforms, and that they are a partial solution to the problem. On the contrary, this barren struggle against the orders only turns aside the attack from the most vulnerable point, and protects the principal position of the clericals. Therefore, the Church keeps up carefully the belief in the favourite fiction of middle-class Republicans, namely, that there is some opposition between the seculars and the regulars. The Church shows this by apparent hostilities.

Middle-class anti-clericalism therefore, really consolidates the power of the Church just as middle-class anti-militarism, as it was shown in the Dreyfus affair, only touched phenomena which are inherent in militarism; it only purified the corruption of the general staff and really strengthened the army.

The first duty of Socialism is evidently to unmask that policy at all times. To do this, it need only assert its complete religious policy and contrast it with the emasculated programme of the middle-class Republicans. But if the Socialists had seriously to take part, without criticising, in the wretched pretences of fighting which the Parliamentary Radicals wage, if they did not say at all times, that these middle-class “priest eaters“ [2] are above all, the enemies of the proletariat, then the aim of Republican anti-clericalism would be attained, and the class struggle would become corrupt. Not only would the struggle against clerical reaction be hopeless, but the danger which, both for Republicanism and for Socialism, results from the joint action of middle-class men and workers would undoubtedly be greater than the inconveniences which are to be feared from the reactionary attacks of the Church.

So, in my opinion, the following is the policy which should be followed by Socialism in France: It should neither adopt the tactics of German Social-Democracy, nor that of French Radicals; it must attack and conquer, not only the reactionary forces of the anti-Republican Church, but also the hypocrisy of the middle-class anti-clericalism.

ROSA LUXEMBURG, of the Leipziger Volkszeiting

Notes by MIA

1.During the late 19th century and early 20th century the French word bourgeois was often translated into English as “middle-class”, i.e. the class between the proletariat and the aristocracy. So modern readers should substitute the word “bourgeois” for “middle-class” throughout this text.

2. The French original says: “bourgeois” mangeurs de prêtres. The phrase mangeurs de prêtres does literally mean “priest-eaters”, but probably a more idiomatic rendering of the phrase would be “‘bourgeois’ priest-haters”

Last updated on: 8.10.2013