Max Shachtman


In This Corner

(22 August 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 61, 22 August 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Father Coughlin has just added a new slogan to his armory, one borrowed from a companion-in-arms: “An attack upon Father Coughlin is an attack upon the Catholic Church.”

Whether the Catholic hierarchy decides to accept this identification of the Radio Priest and his movement with the Church itself, is beside the point for the moment. What we are interested in right here is the relation between Coughlin’s new slogan – and his fascist agitation in general – and the question of the freedom of religious belief and of worship, especially of the millions of Catholics in this country.

Where We Stand on Religion

Now, we do not pretend to be what we are not. The revolutionary Marxist movement is not a religious organization; it does not propagate or support religious doctrines or institutions, considering them harmful to the real interests of the working-class; and there is no doubt that non-believers predominate overwhelmingly in our party.

Yet, contrary to the slanders of red-baiters of the Coughlin type, we do stand for complete freedom of religious belief and worship for every man and woman who wishes to exercize that freedom. We stand for it just as firmly as we support the full right of any person to be a rationalist, agnostic or atheist.

A person’s religion is, in our view, his private affair. This holds true even of individual members of our party who, if he happens to be a church-goer, does not have the demand made on him to abandon his religious affiliation as a condition for party membership. Lenin, whom we regard, along with Marx and Engels, as our teacher in these matters, even invited priests to become members of the Bolshevik party upon the one condition that they support the political program of the party and work for its victory.

To be sure, while considering that religion is the private affair of each individual, the revolutionary party, as a party with a world outlook of its own, has its own position, which it feels free to voice. While it is not a mere atheist society, it is conscious of the fact that it is the party of the only remaining progressive force in society – the working class. And this class, by its very position in society, is wedded to modern science. The party, therefore, be it in a minority or be it in control of the government, wholeheartedly supports the teachings of modern science, and does not abandon that support just because science conflicts with superstition or supernatural beliefs.

Does this mean that a workers’ government would go in for police suppression of religion or religious institutions? Not for a minute! Such a government would confine itself to this policy: first, in the field of education, which could not be a private matter, it would teach all pupils and students the objective truths of modern science; second, not only would it completely separate the church from the state, but it would compel the church institutions to maintain themselves exclusively by the support of their respective flocks and not, as is the case nowadays, by means of special privileges and prerogatives which various religious institutions obtain from the state in one form or another.

What serious and honest objection can be made to such a policy?

Yes, replies the red-baiter, but what about the religious persecutions in Soviet Russia and in Loyalist Spain?

In both countries, we reply, the Church was not a purely religious institution. It was a big economic institution (the Church was the biggest single capitalist in Spain!) and instead of confining itself to what it considered the moral precepts and the religious teachings of Christ, it identified itself in the most active way politically with capitalist reaction.

And if the Church, or anyone else, enters politics, and takes a position in the class war that goes on in modern society, it cannot legitimately object if it finds itself compelled to share the fortunes of war. To protest the sanctity of religion when organized religion is up to its neck in politics, is the sheerest hypocrisy.

We are not interested here in an abstract fight against religion or religious beliefs, to which, we have always acknowledged fullest freedom. We are not interested in offending the religious sentiments of any person – quite the contrary. When Coughlin says we are, then the honorable gentleman is lying. We are interested in fighting against Coughlin-in-politics, and that spells fascism.

Coughlin Provokes Anti-Catholicism

When Coughlin tries to take refuge behind the skirts of “religion” he is both hypocritical and cowardly. But more than that – and let every Catholic worker reflect on this point. By his anti-Semitic campaign, Coughlin is stirring up what is merely another kind of bigotry: professional anti-Catholicism. Many Catholics are beginning to understand it and to feel disturbed. Only this morning the press reported the “burning of a swastika on the steps of a Roman Catholic Church” in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A few days ago, we received the first issue of the revived Ku Klux Klan rag, The Fiery Cross, published in Atlanta, Gait is almost as violently anti-Catholic as Coughlin is anti-Jew. The new Imperial Wizard proclaims that “we shall ever strive to promote the interest of the native born, white, Protestant, Gentile Population of America.” (That would leave out the Canadian-born Catholic, Coughlin!)

How little the religious bigots of all kinds, whose record of mutual persecution and hounding reeks through the pages of history, understand in reality about the question of that freedom of religion which they accuse us Reds of violating!

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