Dora B. Montefiore Justice, 1 October 1910

Belated Prophets

Source: Justice, p.5, 1 October 1910;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

“The Times,” of Wednesday, September 21, has an article on “Christian Socialism in England.” As is usually the case in the capitalist Press, the movement of which their correspondent, writes is not Socialism at all, but a sort of organised “brotherhood” movement a modern development of the old Nonconformist “Pleasant Sunday Afternoons.” Socialism being an economic interpretation, based on the exploitation of the workers, it seems a pity that the word should be used so constantly by bourgeois writers and speakers in a wrong and misleading sense. In the present instance, the mixture of ethical, theological, and philanthropic movement which “The Times” describes is a movement which might, and doubtless does, contain Tariff Reformers and Free Traders, Liberals and Conservatives, Labour men and Radicals; but which would make no appeal to organised International Socialism. It would scarcely perhaps have been necessary to refer in a Socialist weekly to the article in “The Times” were it not that a book called “Labour and Religion” has lately been published, in which some of the contributors, notably Mr. Keir Hardie, Mr. Snowden, Mr. Crooks, and others, state that “Labour men cannot afford, even if they were inclined, to neglect Christianity.” It seems rather a curious plea to put forward for the maintenance of a worn out theology; and it surely smacks somewhat of the Utilitarian point of view of the modern Japanese Government, which, after providing itself with an up to date army, navy, electoral system, and Civil Service, cast about for a State religion; so as to have all things in order, and to ensure a religious bias in the minds of the people in favour of a revealed and divine basis for morality.

Mr. Keir Hardie, in his contribution to this very remarkable work, tells us “that the idea that man has been redeemed from sin, and that we have but to trust in the work done for us by Christ to attain that peace without which life is scarce worth having, that idea explains why the gospel of Jesus has made the headway it has, and won to its standard the millions who acknowledge His Kingship.” If it is only a matter of counting heads, Mr, Keir Hardie knows, no doubt, that Buddhism and Mohammedanism have won even more millions to their standard; and it is difficult for a Socialist to understand the thought processes of a man (who in this same book poses as “the Father of the Labour Party”) wishing to lay his sins on any other man, and obtain individual redemption through anyone else’s sufferings!

But worse is to follow. We are told on another page that “The Brotherhood movement is tending to restore Jesus to rightful place as the Friend and Saviour of the poor.” It has always been presumed that Mr. Keir Hardie, as a member of the I.L.P., was sent to Parliament to help to abolish poverty! Jesus having for 1,000 years neglected his special functions of “Friend and Saviour of the poor,” it was thought by economists to be high time to attack the poverty question at its root, and, by abolishing the wage system, do away with “the poor.” But this volte face of Mr. Keir Hardie’s is very confusing; and we may well ask, by the light of this new “Brotherhood” interpretation, when “the poor” have been done away with by us wicked Socialists, where will Jesus come in? In another passage are told that Christ’s great work was to remove the causes which divided man from man, to make it impossible for the strong to oppress the weak, or the rich to rob the poor. Why, then, we may well ask, bother about the result of the Osborne Judgment? Mr. Walter Hudson, another M.P., teaches humility if we would have our names “written in the Lamb’s Book of Life”; and Mr. Snowden tells, us that “the Father of All is no respecter of persons.” Excellent “master morality” this, and eminently suitable are these little moral tags for keeping the worker “in that state of life to which it has pleased God to call him.” We begin to understand why the “Brotherhood” movement is patronised by “The Times,” and why several godly bishops join in writing an appendix of praise and thanks giving at the end of this work. “For the Labour Party,” writes Bishop Weldon, “aims at Social Reform, and Social Reform is one of the objects, although not the highest object, which the Church, too, has at heart.”

But where in all this; we may well ask, do we find anything of the Socialist interpretation, which, in its scientific form, is spreading through and uniting the workers of the world? Where is that study of forces, naturally engendered by economic process, which alone can form a sound basis for the necessary and revolutionary social action which is to transform the world? Shall we ever succeed in getting the driving force for our movement out of “humility,” “sacrifice,” and “redemption"? Listen to Bakunin replying to Mazzini, who reproached the early followers of Marx for their materialistic interpretation of history. “Mazzini reproaches us with not believing in God. We, in our turn, reproach him with believing. Who is found under the banner of God nowadays? Napoleon III. to Bismarck, the Empress Eugenie to Queen Isabella, with the Pope between them, gallantly presenting the mystic rose to each in turn. All the emperors, all the kings, all the official and noble world of Europe, all the great teachers of industry, commerce, banking, all patented professors and State functionaries, all the police force, including the priests – those black policemen of souls who guard the profits of the State – all the generals, pure defenders of public order, and all editors of the venal press, pure representatives of official virtue. There is the army of God. And in the opposite camp? Revolution! The audacious men who deny God’s divine order, and the principle of authority, but who, on that very account, are believers in humanity, affirmers of a human order and of human liberty. As in the world rightly called material inorganic matter is the determining base of organic, so in the social sphere, which can only be considered the last phase of the material, the advance of economic forces has always been, and is still, the determining base of all advance religious, philosophic, political, and social.”

If this old time fight has to be fought out again because of the present day attempt to sidetrack our social and economic propaganda by entreating working men and women to rely on an outside power to “redeem them from sin,” instead of adjuring them themselves, with head uplifted, to strike at their own economic fetters, we shall find the fight harder in England than in other countries where International Socialism is an organised force. The privileged classes here have never neglected any opportunity for keeping the workers in intellectual darkness, with the result that their reasoning is confused and illogical, and their class consciousness feeble and spasmodic. But economic forces are stronger even than privileged classes; and the workers of England are just now, through the extremes of economic pressure, being hammered on the anvil of industrial competition, and welded into weapons from which all base metal of “humility” and “redemption from sin” shall have been battered. Over in Russia one comrades are being refined with the fire of fierce, relentless, and bloodstained persecution; and there, again, a weapon is being forged that shall before long strike a master blow in our warfare, What avails it to cry with Mr. Keir Hardie “Peace” when we have not yet obtained “Justice"? What avails it to call with Mr. Snowden on “the sublime Christian precept that we should love our neighbour as ourself,” when the Christian Czar is showing his love for his subjects by exterminating: them? A writer in the “Atlantic Monthly” says: “One strong trade union is worth more as a force in moral education in a given city than all the settlements and people’s institutes combined.” That is because, consciously or unconsciously, the members of the trade union are fighting the class war, and are learning, through that fight, their class solidarity with every other trade union of the world. It is not by throwing our mental and spiritual processes back into the past, but by projecting them into the future, that we shall be helping to wage efficiently, and with modern weapons, this warfare, which will only cease when the workers have abolished wage slavery, and are enjoying the wealth which they themselves produce. Mr. Arthur Henderson, in “Labour and Religion,” thanks the “gracious and eternal God for the inspiration that put into Thy servant’s heart to arrange for such unique gatherings.” That word “unique” smacks of the drapers’ shop front, and should indeed appeal to the God of commercialism. Personally, we prefer the spirit of Heine, who wrote “Some day my book of songs will be used by the grocer to make the little paper bags in which he will wrap his coffee and snuff for the old cabmen of the future yet I rejoice, and I find comfort with my dying hand, that communism will come, and men will be born in freedom!”


Correspondence on ‘Belated Prophets’, Justice, p.5, October 8, 1910.

DEAR COMRADE, – When I read Mrs Montefiore’s article under the above heading I wondered, if “Justice,” which has hitherto so well maintained the principle “Religion is a private matter,” had been turned into an organ for religious controversy. For here is a challenge thrown out to all the Christians in the Party to reply with columns and columns explaining their theology. Why cannot we be content to leave our comrades freedom to base their Socialism on Christianity or on materialism, in accordance with their particular temperament and mode of thought and feeling, provided that the result is the same – namely, revolutionary Socialism?

I do not, of course, say this is always the case, but where it is not, let us attack the defect itself, and not the Christianity or Materialism of the individuals in question How is the so much to be desired Socialist unity ever to be brought about if we attack each other in this gratuitous manner?

Yours fraternally,



Mrs. Montefiore’s excellent article on those leaders of the Labour Party who have been recently gaining favour with certain ornaments of current society by wallowing in the mire of a putrid theology (which they are pleased to dignify by the name of “religion”) leaves little to be said on the particular utterances in question. It does however, point a moral which some of our friends are at times very anxious to blunt – to wit, that the traditional institutional religions constitute still a danger that needs fighting. Christianity, which many are apt to regard as past further power of mischief, we have abundant evidence is something like Mr. Lloyd George’s scotched black adder, and has an ugly habit of showing its fangs when we imagine it to be safely dead. The tragedy of Ferrer last year was an illustration, as regards Spain, of the ecclesiastical power of persecution at the beginning of the twentieth century. The grovelling of Labour leaders before the vilest dogmas of Calvinistic theology is another illustration, as regards Britain, of the power the most abject and degraded type of Christian dogma still exercises over a certain class of mind, also at the beginning of the twentieth century. For even if the perfect sincerity an bona fides of any of the writers of the essays in “Labour and Religion” were to be questioned – a point as to which I say nothing, even then it is clear that shrewd, “practical” men would not make an exhibition of themselves in this manner unless they had good reason to believe they would meet with some response among their countrymen.

It is plain, therefore, to my thinking, that Socialists, as the trustees of human progress, cannot afford to lay down their arms in this matter. Alike dogmatic Christianity and sentimental Christianity – the former as a very positive evil, the latter, as a demoralising “red herring” (excuse the metaphor) have still to be fought to a finish, and fought by Socialists in connection with Socialism. You cannot safely leave the fighting to outsiders, who may give the matter quite a wrong twist from the point of view of the Socialist.

But what then becomes of “religion a private matter"? The answer is: theories as to matters of speculation may and should be a “private matter.” But religion in the sense of the public acceptance of a traditional system of dogmatic teaching; claiming supernatural sanctions, out of all sympathy with Socialism and with the requirements of modern thought – as such must be – ceases to be a “private matter,” and becomes a public nuisance from the standpoint of Socialist propaganda.


[We cannot agree with either of our correspondents. Mrs. Montefiore’s article was a necessary and well merited rebuke of those who endeavour to dilute Socialism with a particular form of theology, and to identify it therewith. That was an entirely different matter from opening up a religious controversy. If we are to maintain the principle that religion is a private matter, we must just as strongly condemn those who attempt to give it a Christian bias as those who wish to identify it with atheism. On the other hand, we do maintain that principle, and, however necessary it may be for us to turn our arms against religious institutions, we decline to be led away from the class struggle to a barren campaign against Christianity, or any other form of religious belief. We believe that the economic conditions are all important, and that our task is to change these. If, on the contrary, we believed that Christianity, as a religious belief, was the chief obstacle in our path, then, obviously, seeing that the majority of the people of this country hold that faith in form or another, our duty would be to drop Socialist propaganda altogether for the time being, and set out on an anti-Christian campaign. And nothing, we imagine, would please the enemies of Socialism better than that. – ED. “J"]